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G.I. Bill of Rights

veterans education war educational

On June 22, 1944, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the G.I. Bill of Rights. The purpose of the act was to help the nation reabsorb millions of veterans returning from overseas who had been fighting in World War II. During the decades since its enactment, the law and its amendments have made possible the investment of millions of dollars in education and training for a vast number of veterans. The nation has earned many times its investment in return, through increased tax revenues and a dramatically changed society.

A myriad of forces converged to bring about the successful passage of the G.I. Bill. The end of the war brought reduced demand for the production of wartime goods and fueled fears of the type of economic slowdown that followed previous wars. The influx of potential laborers created apprehension regarding job security and economic stability. The bill addressed these and other problems by providing six benefits, the first three of which were administered by the Veterans Administration (VA).

  • Education and training
  • Loan guarantees for a home, farm, or business
  • Unemployment pay of $20 per week for up to fifty-two weeks
  • Job-location assistance
  • Building materials for VA hospitals as a priority
  • Military review of dishonorable discharges

In enacting the legislation, lawmakers demonstrated that they had learned from the mistakes made by the United States government during the period following the World War I, when war veterans marched on the nation's capital in a crusade for increased compensation from the government. During the last years of World War II, the federal government began a period of activity designed to smooth the transition of society as a whole, and individual veterans in particular, to the postwar era. The economic stability provided by these federal efforts, the centerpiece of which was the G.I. Bill of Rights, boosted Americans' confidence and changed the way individuals lived, worked, and learned.

Initial expectations for the number of veterans who would utilize the educational benefits offered by the G.I. Bill were quite inaccurate. Projections of a total of several hundred thousand veterans were revised, as more than 1 million veterans were enrolled in higher education during each of 1946 and 1947, and well over 900,000 during 1948. Veterans represented between 40 and 50 percent of all higher education students during this period.

The increasing numbers of veterans in higher education created several changes on American college and university campuses. New facilities were constructed to accommodate the surging enrollments. New programs evolved, ones that were geared to the vocational and professional emphases that veterans sought from the classroom. The veteran was among the most successful of all college students academically, and this phenomenon generated a psychological shift for many within American society: no longer was the college campus seen as the exclusive preserve of elite sons and daughters. Once veterans were welcomed inside the college classroom, the irreversible trend began of more and more people, from all groups within society, being able to secure a stable and successful future through the pursuit of higher education and training.

Out of more than 15 million American veterans from World War II, more than 7,800,000 used the G.I. Bill to receive education in the years after the war. One primary reason for the program's success is the flexibility that it gave to veterans, who were able to spend their annual tuition stipend on a wide range of options, ranging from training in specific vocations to enrollment on Ivy League campuses.

This younger generation of Americans aspired to a way of life that was considerably different from that of their parents. Coupled with assistance for housing costs, the educational benefits of the G.I. Bill made possible a middle-class lifestyle that was characterized by white-collar work, home ownership, and life in the suburbs. War-weary citizens were finished with the sacrifices that had been necessary during both depression and wartime; the savings that had accumulated during the war could be spent without reservation, for the financial stability offered by the G.I. Bill's provisions allayed fears of postwar economic disruptions.

The empowerment of the individual veteran by the G.I. Bill helped to create the expectation that all Americans can and must have an opportunity to share in the dreams of a college education and a successful, middle-class lifestyle. In the decades following World War II, the federal government pursued initiatives designed to extend this opportunity to minorities, to women, and to the disabled within American society. The successes of the G.I. Bill encouraged legislators to create educational opportunities for individuals in these groups as a means of redressing past social and economic inequities.

This emphasis on advanced education and training for the masses has facilitated the development of America's knowledge-based economy and society. More than ever, Americans see knowledge and training as vital to each individual's future economic success and position within society. Though not entirely eradicated, barriers to accessing this knowledge and training have diminished in many areas of American society, due in large part to the efforts of the federal government. The G.I. Bill proved the ability of the federal government to promote social and economic advancement through educational attainment and training, and millions of veterans can attest to the importance in their own lives of the opportunities that welcomed them following the completion of their military service.

Subsequent legislation includes the following.

  • The Veterans Readjustment Act of 1952, approved by President Truman on July 16, 1952, for those serving in the Korean War
  • The Veterans Readjustment Benefits Act of 1966, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on March 3, 1966, for post–Korean War veterans and Vietnam-era veterans
  • The Post–Vietnam Era Veterans' Educational Assistance program (VEAP) for individuals that entered active duty between December 31, 1976, and July 1, 1985
  • The Montgomery G.I. Bill for individuals initially entering active duty after June 30, 1985
  • The Montgomery G.I. Bill: Selected Reserve Educational Assistance Program for members of the Selected Reserve, including the national guard
  • The Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance Program, the only VA educational assistance program for spouses and children of living veterans

BIBLIOGRAPHY

BENNETT, MICHAEL J. 1994. "The Law That Worked." Educational Record (fall):7–14.

BENNETT, MICHAEL J. 1996. When Dreams Came True. Washington, DC: Brasseys.

CLARK, DANIEL A. 1998. "The Two Joes Meet: Joe College, Joe Veteran." History of Education Quarterly (summer):165–189.

OLSON, KEITH W. 1974. The G.I. Bill, the Veterans, and the Colleges. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

OLSON, KEITH W. 1994. "The Astonishing Story." Educational Record (fall):16–26.

URBAN, WAYNE J., and WAGONER, JENNINGS L., JR. 1996. American Education: A History. New York: McGraw-Hill.

INTERNET RESOURCE

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, EDUCATION SERVICE. 2001. "The GI Bill: From Roosevelt To Montgomery." <www.gibill.va.gov/education/GI_Bill.htm>.

DEBORAH A. VERSTEGEN

CHRISTOPHER WILSON

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