The Effect of the GI Bill on Higher Education


The Effect of the GIBill on Higher Education

The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 also known as the GI billsought to ensure that war veterans smoothly transitioned back intocivilian life upon their discharge from the military. Its goal was toprovide ex-servicemen and women with alternative ways of meetingtheir needs without depending on the government for upkeep.Initially, it targeted the World War II veterans, but recent versionsof the Bill have included even the serving servicemen and women. Thedesire to address the needs of war veterans dates back to the end ofthe First World War. After the war ended, some veterans facednumerous hurdles in their attempt to make a living. Most of themstayed for over a year upon their discharge without securing a job.Consequently, the Congress intervened by enacting the World WardAdjusted Act of 1924 also known as the Bonus Act. This piece oflegislation gave each veteran a bonus depending on the number of daysa person served in the war. However, this move did not yield muchresults as the majority of those whom the government hoped wouldbenefit from the bonus did not receive anything for over 20 years(U.S Department of Veterans Affairs, 2013). .

In the summer of 1932, a group of veterans took part in ademonstration in Washington, DC where they demanded that thegovernment honor the provisions of the World War Adjusted Act of 1924by paying all their bonuses. The federal government did not pay theminstantly and this prompted some of them to return home while othersdecided to stick around until they received their money. Those whodecided to camp in the city were kicked out of the capital by the U.Stroops. However, before they decided to move out of the city, theveterans engaged the troops in a bitter standoff, which is one of thegreatest moments of unrest that Washington DC had ever witnessed.

The first draft of the GI bill was written by Harry W. Colmery, aformer Republican National Chairman and a retired national commanderof the American Legion (RooseveltU.S Department of Veterans Affairs, 2013). On Jan 10,1944, the Bill was presented to the House of Representatives and tothe Senate the next day. The House of Representatives approved theversion of the bill brought to it and this was also the case with theSenate. However, the two houses disagreed on some issues raised bythe proposed Act. Both groups agreed to the Bill provision on homeloans and education benefits, but disagreed on the unemploymentclause. It took the vote of the John Gibson a Georgian representativeto break the tie that was hindering the passing of the bill. Afterthe bill received the majority votes from both houses, a finalversion of it was approved by the Senate on June 12, 1944 and thesame got the approval of the House of the Representatives on thefollowing day. On June 22, 1944 the bill became a law after it wassigned by President Franklin (RooseveltU.S Department of Veterans Affairs, 2013).

While signing the Act, President Roosevelt said that the Bill wouldgive both servicemen and women an opportunity to join college anduniversities as well as technical training institutions after theirdischarge from the military. This was possible as the Bill guaranteedthe ex-servicemen and women a maximum of $500 for every academic yearto go towards clearing tuition fee. Additionally, the Act promisedthe war veterans that they would be given monthly living allowancesduring the entire time they were pursuing higher education. Consequently, according toBatten (2011) by the end of 1947, 49% of all studentswho enrolled in institutions of higher learning were veterans.Additionally, by July 25, 1956, 7.8 out of the 16 millionparticipants of the Second World War II had taken part in a trainingor education programpartly sponsored by the GI Bill (Batten, 2011).

The bill was updated in 1984 with the efforts of GillespieMontgomery a former Mississippi member of Congress. This updatedversion of the Act sought to include the new generation of warveterans in the education as well as the home loan guaranteeprograms. In 2008, the Act was updated again and this new versionprovided war veterans who had an active service duty on or afterSeptember 11, a comprehensive benefits program that provided morefinances to cater for the educational cost as well as money forbuying books. Additionally, for the first time, the 2008 version ofthe GI bill enabled the war veterans to transfer their unutilizededucational benefits to their spouses and children.

How has the Bill influenced Higher Education in America

There exists much debate among scholars on the extent of the effectof the Act on the number of war veterans enrolling in colleges anduniversities. This is because after the Bill was passed the minimumacademic qualifications that an individual had to possess beforebeing allowed to enroll in the army was raised. According toBatten (2011), on average, an American soldier belowthe age of 25 entered the army with a 1.1 years of education morecompared to the general population. This shows that soldiers who weredischarged after the enactment of the GI Bill possessed higherintelligence compared to the general population. This may be thereason a large proportion of the war veterans immediately enrolled incolleges and universities upon their discharge. It is also possiblethat the number of ex-soldiers joining the institutions of higherlearning would have spiked even if the GI bill was never passed.

Additionally, a substantial proportion of soldiers who joined thedifferent wars America was involved in were students before they wereforced to leave their studies and join their colleagues inbattlegrounds. Batten(2011) reports that approximately 14% of Army and 6% ofthe Navy had already enrolled for a college diploma before going towar. Also, a survey conducted by the Educational Testing Service at16 colleges between 1946 and 1947 reported that approximately 80% ofwar veterans who had enrolled for various diplomas had plans ofpursuing higher education even before the incentives provided by theGI Bills(Batten, 2011). This means that it is hard to quantifythe effect of the GI bill on the influx of veterans enrolling incolleges and universities. However, the Act has had numerousconsequences to the country’s higher education system.

The first effect of the bill on higher education in America is thatit resulted in the influx of war veterans joining colleges anduniversities. According toBatten (2011), more than 2.2 million ex-soldiers werefacilitated by the provisions of the Act to pursue higher education.In addition to this number, 5.6 million of the war veterans eitherenrolled in some form of vocational training. Consequently, after theBill was passed 49% of all students who enrolled in the differentcolleges and universities were ex-soldiers. Besides, approximately51% of World War II veterans made use of the education benefitsavailed to them by the GI Bill of 1944. The number of soldiers takingadvantage of the education benefits by far surpassed the governmentprojections. According to Batten(2011), before initiating the program, the federalgovernment had projected that only between 8 and 1% of war veteranswould want to enroll in a full-time education program after theirdischarge. According to O’herrin (2011), in the first year of theimplementation of the Post- 9/11 GI bill more than 300,000ex-soldiers and family members have benefited from the provision ofthe Act. By 2014, more than a million war veterans had benefited fromthe provisions of the Post-9/11 Bill. Consequently, the GI Bill hasnot only increased the number of war veterans in higher education,but has also resulted in a surge in the population of college anduniversity studies across the country.

Not only did the GI bill result in the proliferation of veteransjoining various training programs, but also resulted in an increasein the college completion rates for ex-soldiers from 4% to 10%(Batten, 2011). A study by the National Bureau ofEconomic Research reported that after the passing of the Bill,ex-soldiers completed 0.15-0.52 more schooling years compared toprior to the enactment of the Act(Batten, 2011). According to Barr(2016), the Post 9/11 GI Bill has resulted in a 25%increase in the military personal degree attainment rate. Thispercentage increase has been as a result of an increase in theenrollment of veterans who could not have attended colleges andUniversities. Additionally, the percentage increase is attributed tothe increased persistence on the part veterans who might have droppedout of college(Barr, 2016). The lack of fees, especially for studentswho also double as parents is a major factor that accounts forindividuals who enroll in colleges to drop out before completingtheir studies. The increase in degree attainment rate could not havebeen possible for veterans, especially since a substantial number ofthem stayed for over a year before securing a job.

The Act has also helped in the democratization of higher education inAmerica. Particularly, among the veterans, the government dischargestuition fees without discriminating on whether one comes from a pooror rich background. The Bill has created a change in the racialcomposition of students in higher education institutions.Traditionally, “the American colleges were characteristicallyrural, private, small, elitist, white and Protestants” (Batten,2011). As such, higher education was seen as a preserveof the upper class as only a small proportion of the average Americancould secure a place in colleges and universities. The majority ofsoldiers coming from the lower social class could not raise the hightuition fees charged by universities and college. The GI bill,particularly benefited the average American because this groupcomprises the majority of the military veterans. Apart fromproviding an opportunity to the middle and lower classes to joincolleges, the GI bill has increased the percentage of the minorityraces in institutions of Higher education in America. Prior to theBill, racial discrimination in college enrollments was prevalent.However, the Act provided an opportunity for the blacks, Jews andother minority races to join colleges based on their capacity asex-soldiers. According to O’Herrin (2011), veterans are more likelyto be non-white compared to the traditional college students. Assuch, the Act was tailored to benefit the non-white, although thisgroup is still reluctant when it comes to enrolling for the differenteducation programs availed to them by the Bill. The influx ofnonwhite veterans in colleges encouraged their civilian counterpartsto join higher education institution. Currently, American collegesplay host to students from all races found in the country, bothcivilian and ex-servicemen and women.

Besides, the GI Bill has played a pivotal role in the shift in thepost-secondary education from liberal arts to vocational training.The Act has had an effect on the courses offered in American collegesand universities. According toBatten (2011), one study has found that 82% of soldierswho enroll for the college diploma choose courses with a high levelof practical applicability (Batten,2011). Having spent a substantial amount of their earlyadult life serving the country in harsh conditions, the majority ofex-servicemen and women prefer courses that would lead in highlyflexible jobs. Particularly, a substantial number of the veterans areinterested in courses that are tailored toward making a studentself-employed.

The demand for such courses resulted in institutions of higherlearning creating programs aimed at imparting veterans with practicalskills. The American Council on Education in corroboration with otherfour higher education associations administered a national survey toexplore the landscape of programs tailored for veterans in Americancolleges and universities. This study revealed that 57% ofinstitutions that took part in the survey had programs specificallytailored for ex-servicemen and women(O’herrin, 2011).Public four-year colleges (74%) are more likely to have programs thatsuit the needs of veterans compared to their two-year counterparts(66%) (O’herrin, 2011). The desire to ensure that the veterans benefitsmaximally from programs specifically desired for them, less than halfof colleges and universities that offer programs that target militaryofficers provide opportunities to members of their faculties as welladministrators to acquire crucial information about the specificneeds of the military population (O’herrin, 2011). This means thatnot only has the GI bill impacted the composition of the Americancollege students but has also affected the diversity in terms ofskills on faculty staffs of higher education institutions across thecountry.

The huge enrollment of veterans in college and universities haschanged the balance between public and private institutions.According to The City University of New York (2014), prior to theenactment of the bill, the ratio of public to private collegeenrollment was 50-50. However, currently approximately 80% of collegestudents are enrolled in public institutions (The City University ofNew York, 2014). The growth of public universities following theenactment of the bill is because most of the beneficiaries of the Actenrolled in these institutions.

The success of the GI Bill in aiding veterans access educationopportunities provided a good precedent on how the federal governmentcan be involved in higher education without affecting the autonomy ofcolleges and universities. This has been seen through the federalgovernment financial aids to underserved students (Batten,2011). Currently, students who cannot afford the hightuition fees charged by universities and colleges can apply for loansfrom the federal government. Apart from helping students clear theirtuition fees, these loans cater for the various needs of theirbeneficiaries such as the purchase of books. This financial aids hastargeted the students from the minority races, although everyone isfree to apply.

In conclusion, the Servicemen`s Readjustment Act of 1944 also knownas the GI Bill has had a profound impact on higher education sinceits enactment following the end of World War II. The bill was enactedto address the looming economic and social crisis targetingex-military. This is after the World War I veterans went through hardtimes, transitioning from the military to civilian life. The Billprovided several benefits that were to be enjoyed by ex-military upontheir discharge. Some of these benefits include home loans andeducation opportunities. In terms of education opportunities, theBill provided veterans with a $500 tuition fee package in addition toother services that are needed for one to pursue higher education.Consequently, three years since its enactment, veterans accounted for49% of new college enrollment. The Bill has been updated severaltimes, including the Montgomery and the post- 9/11 versions. Thoughit is evident that the Bill has had a profound impact on highereducation, especially for veterans, it is hard to quantify the extentthe Act contributed to the influx of ex-military in colleges anduniversities. This is because studies show that average militarypersonnel under the age of 25 are more intelligent compared to themembers of the general populations who fall in the same age group.Besides, some soldiers reported that they had plans of joiningcollege, even before the enactment of the GI Bill. Thatnotwithstanding, the impact of the GI bill is still being felt in theAmerican higher education systems. Some of these effects includemassive government involvement in supporting higher education interms of offering financial aids to the needy. This was as a resultof the success of the GI Bill, which provided a good precedent on howthe federal government can improve the quality of offered in highereducation without affecting the independence of these institutions.Besides, the Bill played a vital role in the democratization ofhigher education in America. Before the enactment of the Bill, mostcollege students were predominately white. Besides, the Bill hasresulted in more students enrolling in public institutions. In turn,these institutions have been forced to provide courses specificallytailored to meet the needs of the veterans who prefer programs thatimpart practical skills.


Barr, A.(2016). “Fighting for Education: The Effect of the Post -9/11 GIBill on degree attainment.” Accessed on September 28, 2016.

Batten, D. D.(2011). GI Bill, Higher Education and American Society, The.GroveCity CJL Pub Pol`y,&nbsp2,13.

O’Herrin, E. (2011). “Enhancing veteran success in highereducation.” Accessedon September 28, 2016.

The City University of New York. (2014). “Investing in future:public higher education in America.”Accessed on September 28, 2016.

U.SDepartment of Veterans Affairs. (2013). “Education and training.”Accessed onSeptember 28, 2016.