When President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 into law, he forged a new relationship between higher education and veterans that transformed higher ed as well as the U.S. economy. The GI Bill, as the law is commonly known, was written to prevent the 16 million veterans of World War II from experiencing the problems faced by returning soldiers of previous wars: low benefits, and difficulty finding jobs in an economy suddenly flooded with jobseekers.
“Historians say the GI Bill fueled a major expansion of the nation’s higher education system and made college a cornerstone of middle-class American life,” said Stephen Smith, reporting for Marketplace.
According to Eliza Berman, writing for Time, the GI Bill “had an unprecedented impact on veterans and the higher education system alike.” In fact, Berman reports, LIFE published a 1947 cover story about student veterans, who suddenly made up more than 50 percent of the college population.
Eventually expanded to include all who have served in the military, the GI Bill has educated millions, and is credited with laying the foundation for today’s middle class—and producing some of the great innovations of the 20th century. “The scientists and engineers and teachers and thinkers who brought in the information age, who took us to the moon, who waged the Cold War, you name it—all those men and women were educated through the GI Bill,” said historian Ed Humes.
It also fueled service to higher education by veterans. In fact, veterans currently lead ten universities:
- Christopher Howard, Robert Morris University
- Elizabeth L. Hillman, Mills College
- Robert E. Clark, Wesley College
- Ann Rondeau, College of DuPage
- Steven H. Tallant, Texas A&M University-Kingsville
- William R. Harvey, Hampton University
- Thomas J. Haas, Grand Valley State University
- Elroy Ortiz Oakley, Long Beach Community College District
- Herman J. Fenton, Wilberforce University
- David E. Garland, Baylor University
Between 2000 and 2012, more than 900,000 veterans and military service members received education benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, carrying forward the important relationship forged between veterans and higher education in 1944.
On Memorial Day we salute those who have served our nation. We also recognize the role higher education has played in advancing the lives of those who gave so much and our pride in working in this industry.