The Serviceman's Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the GI
Bill of Rights, provided a variety of benefits for "veterans" (e.g.
"demobilized soldiers," cf. different usage in British English) of World
War II. The Act, signed into law on June 22, 1944 by President Franklin
D. Roosevelt, evolved from the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940,
which had established compulsory military conscription, or "the draft."
The G.I. Bill (which is still in effect, having been revised several
times since 1944) was a powerful stimulus for social and economic change
in post-WWII America. It made possible the investment of billions of
dollars in education and training, housing, and small business investment
for millions of veterans, the result of which was a dramatically changed
society. The GI Bill fostered the growth of the American middle class.
Education, income opportunities, and home ownership combined to improve
the standard of living for many Americans. More families were able to
raise their children in comfortable environments and provide higher
education for their children.
Some of the most significant benefits concerned education. Veterans who
attended college or entered vocational training programs received
financial assistance to help defray the cost of education and compensate
for income they had lost by having been drafted into the military from
their previous civilian jobs.
Any veteran who had served at least 90 days was eligible for education
benefits. The benefits increased relative to length of service and time
spent in a 'combat zone.' The influence on higher education can be seen by
a single comparison: In 1940 only 109,000 men and 77,000 women had
graduated from college with bachelor's degrees. By 1949, due to the
influence of the G.I. Bill, these numbers had risen to 528,000 men and
103,000 women. In all, roughly 2.2 million veterans, about one-third of
all those who returned from WWII, entered U.S. colleges and universities
under the G.I. Bill.
With this fivefold increase in college registrations within a very
short period, schools had to construct temporary housing to accommodate
the new students. Existing institutions were forced to expand. Often new
campuses had to be created to accommodate the need for administrative,
classroom and housing facilities. Many entirely new institutions of
higher education were created. New types of higher education
institutions, such as the "junior colleges," also began to emerge.
In the long term, perhaps most significant was that higher education
changed from its relatively elitist status prior to WWII to an experience
that was felt possible for everyone in the post-War years. For the war
generation, total enrollment in colleges and universities increased from
ca 1.5 million in 1939 to 2.6 million in 1949. For their children,
however, access to higher education was regarded almost as self-evident.
By 1969, when the first wave of the baby boom had completed higher
education, total enrollment was up to 8 million. A generation later, in
1989, enrollment was 13.5 million, and it continues to increase. Higher
education had become a commodity, available to all (statistics from the
U.S. Dept. of Education, 1995).
Another important benefit of the G.I. Bill was guaranteed low-interest
home loans. Any veteran who had served for at least 90 days, or who had
been injured or disabled in the line of duty and had been honorably
discharged, was eligible for a mortgage of up to 100% of the cost of a new
home. The rapid establishment of families by returning G.I.'s, and the
the "baby boom" starting in 1946, resulted in a critical need for family
housing, preferably with extra bedrooms and yards to play in for the
Thus was created the new phenomenon of the suburb, symbolized by the
first "Levittowns." The suburban concept spread rapidly in the 1950s, as
the higher incomes of the first wave of new college graduates in the late
1940s, combined with the GI Bill's low-interest housing loans, resulted in
a continuous demand for newer, larger homes. The ratio of U.S. homeowners
doubled from 1 in 3 before the war to 2 in 3 after the war. And, as the
availability of new suburban homes increased, people left the cities. This
eventually gave rise to "inner-city" decay.
There were other benefits of the G.I. Bill as well. Low-interest loans
to help start or invest in an existing business were also available to
veterans. This caused a boom in small businesses. Increasingly these were
located in suburbia, where both owners and customers now lived. Thus grew
the impetus toward the modern "exurbs" and "edge cities."
More information can be found in The G.I. Bill, the Veterans, and
the Colleges, by Keith W. Olson (Lexington: University Press of
Kentucky, 1974). This book, which was runner-up for the Frederick Jackson
Turner Prize of the Organization of American Historians, is available in
the university library or can be borrowed from John. Overviews are also
www.ohiohistory.org and Wikipedia: 'The G.I.
Bill of Rights'.