Monday’s post, “A Memory of Fraternities” came back to me as I was reading a 1945 report from a fraternity chapter at the University of Illinois, “As did everyone, we had the strange problem during rushing of not knowing some of our brothers, as well as the rushees, for we have men back from as far as the class of ’42.”
The two institutions from which I graduated, Syracuse University and Southern Illinois University Carbondale owe much to the men who took advantage of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of June 22, 1944, commonly known as the G. I. Bill. It had six titles, only one of which dealt with the education and training of veterans. Yet, the educational benefits of the G. I. Bill have become a benchmark for higher education. More than two million World War II veterans attended college courtesy of the G. I. Bill. Both Syracuse and SIUC met the challenge of enrolling and educating those returning G.I.s and both institutions changed and grew from the utter chaos the challenge brought with it.
Economics, not education, was the original intent behind the legislation. The nation had been through an economic depression prior to its involvement in World War II. The wartime economy had improved, but President Roosevelt was aware that unleashing significant numbers of returning veterans into a peacetime economy at the war’s end might prove disastrous. Roosevelt’s first mention of educating returning veterans was on November 13, 1942, the day he signed into law a Selective Service Act amendment lowering the draft age to 18.
On December 19, 1945, the Senate approved several amendments to Title II, the education component of the G. I. Bill. The benefits were no longer restricted to those servicemen under 25 years of age, more time was allotted for the completion of a degree, and monthly subsistence allowances were raised $15 per month. Single veterans would get $65 per month allowance and those with dependents would receive $90.
The American Council on Education [ACE] aided the institutions by providing information on the 800 training courses taught by the armed forces. George P. Tuttle, Registrar at the University of Illinois, headed the committee which produced A guide to the evaluation of education experiences in the Armed Services. It first appeared in loose-leaf format and was released as a completed edition in 1946. Tuttle’s guide provided the institutions a standard for granting credit based on military training.
The influx of servicemen to American colleges and universities following their discharge from the armed forces caused significant growth of several major universities and made higher education available to a greater number of Americans. During the later half of the 1940s accommodating veterans, and in many cases, their families, became a challenge for universities such as the University of Wisconsin, Syracuse University, and the University of Michigan.
The peak of veteran enrollment occurred in the fall of 1947; institutions scrambled to find housing, instructors, and classrooms to accommodate the record numbers of students. Not all institutions were affected, however. Since Uncle Sam was footing the bill, many veterans sought out the best institutions their academic records would allow. Ivy League schools, large state universities, and prestigious small liberal arts schools were popular with the returning veterans.
The G. I. Bill spawned several changes on college campuses. Many of the veterans were the first in their family to ever attend college. This opened higher education’s door those who would not have previously attended college. Married students became an accepted part of higher education. As older students, the veterans proved that one did not have to be a teenager to enroll and excel. The Korean War and the Vietnam War had their own G. I. Bills. Today the Veteran’s Administration provides educational benefits to those veterans who qualify.
© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2014. All rights reserved. If you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/glohistory/