The Historic Significance Of The G.I. Bill
This paper will discuss the educational provisions of the G.I. Bill as a historical document that helped shape higher education in the United States, its context during the time it was created, the impact it had in higher education in the United States, as well as the multiple perspectives on the unexpected outcomes of this historical document. In post World War II times, production was winding down and switched gears from “tank treads to automobile tires” (Thelin, 2011, p. 262-3), which meant that the military veterans who have just come home would be out of jobs for a longer period of time. President Roosevelt was concerned with the anticipated high unemployment rate veterans would face coming home from World War II, and worked with Congress to save the country’s economy, which compensated veterans in the process. The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, more commonly known as the G.I. Bill, allowed Veterans many benefits, including giving them the ability to get an education at the cost of the federal government. The G.I. Bill was perceived to be created to benefit veterans and nonetheless was necessary within its own time and context, but was more of an economic aid initiative that happened to enable veterans get an education in the process and brought on unexpected responses in the areas of college admissions, race relations, and the future of higher education in the United States.
The G.I. Bill had multiple functions and included improved and newly constructed hospitals, educational benefits, loans for real estate, help finding employment, and allowances as compensation while finding employment (The G.I. Bill of Rights: An Analysis of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, 1944). While there are multiple benefits, it is also largely known for its educational provisions for veterans, which is known in the G.I. Bill as Title II. The G.I. Bill’s educational provisions included a “grant for tuition, fees, books, and supplies, plus a subsistence allowance for veterans and their dependents” (Serow, 2004, p.482). Veterans were guaranteed an education, but with the stipulations of completing “90 days service, plus one month for each month of active duty, for a maximum of 48 months” (Kiester, 1994, para. 11).
President Roosevelt’s solicitation to Congress on passing the G.I. Bill occurred due to released reports from the National Resources Planning Board (NRPB) and the Armed Forces Committee on Post-War Educational Opportunities for Service Personnel. Olson (1973) synthesized he recommendations in these reports as primarily focused on the economic importance of enacting the G.I. Bill, and the bill’s purpose as an “anti-depression measure” (p. 597). Veteran’s benefits were considered to be secondary and not serving as the sole purpose. A variation of this sentiment was also voiced in the report by the Armed Forces Committee on Post-War Educational Opportunities for Service Personnel, and the body regarded the educational benefits as being “incidental” (as cited in “Preliminary Report to the President of the United States” by the Armed Forces Committee, 1943).
Demobilization of forces, high rates of unemployment, and an anticipated “8 or 9 million” (p. 597) unemployed veterans with no benefits, caused the NRPB conclude that the “little likelihood of satisfactory and useful employment” (as cited in the “Demobilization and Readjustment” report by the NRPB, 1943) called for educational provisions for veterans (among other modes of compensation). President Roosevelt even embedded the “anti-depression intent” (p. 598) into his nomination for re-election, and his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt recommended that we “adjust our economic system” (as cited in Olson, 1973p. 589) to accommodate these changed. After this economically-grounded appeal went before the U.S. Congress, President Roosevelt signed the G.I. Bill into law on June 22nd, 1944.
The impact that the G.I. Bill had on higher education in the United States was two-pronged: the G.I. Bill shaped the norms of student life in the United States, and shifted the demographic makeup of college students. According to Olson (1973), many veterans were married or got married while attending college, which before the enactment of the G.I. Bill would have been “sufficient cause for dismissal” (p. 608). Many veterans also had children while they were in college, which also was not normal before this time.
Married students also made up a part of the new wave of veteran college students that dominated institutions of higher education in the United States. Married students also contributed to the growth of this population, which grew 75% more in post-war times than pre-war times (p. 608). This caused the government and those in education to depend on larger schools to take on higher enrollments. The increase in students at colleges and universities because of the G.I. Bill called for everything to also be larger; classes, campuses, and even called for graduate students to teach. The Department of Defense took advantage of these growing student populations and created funded research opportunities for students in the fields of science and technology, which eventually led to more opportunities for graduate education for veterans.
In the 1960’s, the incoming wave of Korean War veterans who used their benefits to get an education caused “fundamental changes” (p. 610) in both admission and university policies. So while colleges grew and sometimes doubled in population size and had to fill their campus to capacity to accommodate the larger enrollments, this was seen as more of a success rather than a failure due to the results “exceeding the intention” of the bill (p. 610). In June 2008, the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill, which was an expansion of the original G.I. Bill, was signed and started in August 2009. It not only offered educational opportunities to veterans who were active duty military since September 10th, 2001, but also allowed these benefits to be transferred to the spouse of a veteran or child(ren) of a veteran, which opened up the opportunity to a wider range of people (Zhang, 2018, p. 100).
The response of the G.I. Bill was seen to be a success because what the bill became surpassed the intention of the original, but there were many responses not accounted for which deflected the successes of the bill. One unexpected response according to Thelin (2011) was the large amount of applications than normal. This meant that the admissions decision process had to go at a faster pace, and applications not being accompanied by previous educational records made the situation “problematic” (p. 265). The larger populations of students entering institutions of higher education in the United States also meant that the process was more competitive. This caused colleges and universities to make standardized testing part of the application process and also as a criteria for advanced placement courses (p. 265).
Thelin (2011) also pointed out that while the G.I. Bill’s educational benefits were inclusive to all veterans who qualified, it did not make it easy for women veterans or Black veterans. The effects of the G.I Bill meant that men dominated many fields of study and not women, who only made up about 1% of veteran enrollment (p. 267). Black veterans were also a part of this population, and while they had access to these benefits, the bill did not require institutions to adopt nondiscriminatory policies because “educational opportunity had yet to be extended to concern for civil rights” (p. 267) .
A long-term unexpected response pointed out by Schwartz & Stewart (2017) was the pressure to get married and have children because of the subsidies veterans got along with the other monetary incentives. These incentives created what we know as the “baby boom”, the generation of U.S. citizens born between 1946 and 1964, which eventually meant that a whole generation of children would potentially go to college at the same time. In later years, the effects “baby boom” resulted in an “unprecedented demand for higher education” (p. 28).
We can see throughout this paper the there was a concrete concern and a need to keep the United States economy intact as veterans come back from war, rather than a plan for veterans themselves be employed to keep the economy from collapsing. The President and United States Congress’s interest was on the economy and not the potential domino effects it would have for higher education in the United States and future generations. The G.I. Bill caused growth of student populations which made admissions criteria more narrow, made higher education in the United States less inclusive to veterans outside the cisgender white male population, and did not account for the long term effects that the other provisions of the G.I. Bill would have in relation to education (i.e. low mortgages, more money for families and per child). Because of President Roosevelt and his cabinet putting the economy first rather than trying to assist all veterans equally and equitably, the long term effects take the shape of universities having to compensate by updating facilities even in today’s world of higher education in the United States.
- Kiester, E. (1994). The G.I. Bill may be the best deal ever made by Uncle Sam. Smithsonian, 25(8), 128. Retrieved from https://search-ebscohost-com.proxy195.nclive.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=941147676&site=ehost-live&scope=site
- Olson, K. W. (1973). The G. I. Bill and Higher Education: Success and Surprise. American Quarterly, 25(5), 596–610.
- Schwartz, R., & Stewart, D.-L. (2017). The History of Student Affairs. In Student services: a handbook for the profession (6th ed., pp. 1–610). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
- Serow, R. C. (2004). Policy as Symbol: Title II of the 1944 G.I. Bill. The Review of Higher Education, 27(4), 481–499.
- The G.I. Bill of Rights: An Analysis of the Servicemens … (1944, July). Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v7n7/v7n7p3.pdf.
- Thelin, J. R. (2011). Gilt by Association: Higher Education’s ‘Golden Age,’ 1945 to 1970. In A History of American Higher Education (2nd ed., pp. 1–466). Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Zhang, L. (2017). Veterans Going to College: Evaluating the Impact of the Post-9/11 GI Bill on College Enrollment. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 40(1), 82–102.
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