March 31, 1943 Flight Cadets arrived in the small town of Slippery Rock to receive training at the local teachers' college for the war that Americans had been entangled in for two years already. Upon stepping onto the campus, the Cadets were greeted by the smiling faces of townspeople, college students, and faculty. The high school band played patriotic songs in the background and the Cadets were welcomed by the community. With the arrival of the Flight Cadets on campus, Slippery Rock State Teachers College became a force, however small it may be, behind promoting war support for the soldiers and in keeping colleges open for students. As the United States struggled with issues such as rationing of supplies and deployment of soldiers, Slippery Rock College fought its own battle on campus regarding low enrollment and over-staffing. Despite these challenges, the campus remained strong and found ways to contribute.
Low enrollment was a significant problem for the college. By the fall of 1943 there were only 189 students enrolled on campus, which was nearly the size of the student body when the school first opened in 1889. The lack of students consequently decreased funding on campus, leading several academic departments to suffer faculty cuts. Other state colleges in Pennsylvania faced similar crises as the House of Representatives considered passing Bill Number 460, which would have closed all state teachers colleges and re-opened them for vocational training in defense for the war. Slippery Rock adamantly opposed this and related bills as they wanted the school to remain faithful to its original purpose as a teachers college.
As a temporary solution Slippery Rock worked with the United States Army to create a program that allowed flight cadet students to receive basic training on campus. Approximately 500 men arrived on campus on March 31, 1943, under the direction of Captain Carl B. Nusbaum. The Cadets were housed in South and West Halls, while the students in those halls were relocated to renovated quarters in West Gymnasium, The Hut (the student center), and in several town residences. At Slippery Rock the Cadets underwent five months of academic training in subjects like modern history, geography, and physics.
The Flight Cadet program was successful in stabilizing conditions on campus and allowed the school to continue athletic and student activities in times of low enrollment. Despite the lack of men on campus Coach N. Kerr Thompson refused to let Slippery Rock withdraw from the intercollegiate competition and told the Board of Trustees in October of 1944 “that even though there were only 10 men on campus there’d be a basketball team.” During wartime, except for the Flight Cadets, the student population was overwhelmingly female, causing a shift in campus life. The athletic page of the 1944 Saxigena, the student yearbook, displayed the title "Athletics without men" and pictured all-female football, volleyball, hockey, basketball, archery, tennis, and dance teams. Sororities also gained more prominence on campus.
Not only did the Flight Cadet program alleviate issues of enrollment, but it also fostered a sense of community among students, faculty, and townspeople. On a daily basis students and the Cadets interacted in classrooms and dining halls. The local churches also encouraged strong community ties by inviting both students and Cadets to nights of games and music. The Cadets reported a sense of belonging in their new publication, The Flyin' Rapier, and said that their time at Slippery Rock seemed more like a college experience rather than military training.
The Flight Cadet program was only temporary, and began to be phased out in February of 1944. Problems of low enrollment and over-staffing re-occurred. Slippery Rock tried to get another military program on campus, but was unsuccessful. Fortunately the school did not suffer long as Slippery Rock received permission to be a student nurse training center for 55 students from the Butler County Memorial Hospital. Also, with the end of the war in 1945 enrollment increased as the result of returning soldiers.
World War II was a difficult time for Slippery Rock; however, the Flight Cadet program alleviated problems of enrollment, while also allowing Slippery Rock to contribute to the war effort and to stay strong as a community in times of turmoil.