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"A New Deal for Veterans"

Inside Higher Ed features an interview today with the authors of a new history of the original G.I. Bill, which is titled “The GI Bill: A New Deal for Veterans.” The G.I. Bill is popularly considered to be the most successful piece of domestic legislation in American history, credited with vastly expanding access to higher education and home ownership in the years following World War II. The G.I. Bill arguably created the modern American middle class and transformed the post-war economy.

On the other hand, the authors of “A New Deal for Veterans” tell Inside Higher Ed that its impact has been significantly exaggerated. A majority of returning servicemen, for example, probably would have gone onto college even without the G.I. Bill’s generous education benefits. And since women and African Americans were underrepresented in the armed forces, few were able to reap the G.I. Bill’s benefits. Which is not to say that the authors don’t regard the G.I. Bill as revolutionary in its impact:

“The bill played an incredibly important symbolic and substantive role in higher education. It replenished the human capital in the United States, training a workforce to help the nation enter the postindustrial age. It accelerated, albeit modestly, the expansion of higher education, by stimulating the development of statewide systems of public colleges and universities. Even more importantly, it spread the perception that higher education was the preferred path to economic mobility – and served as a rallying point for reformers interested in increasing access to college. Designed as a temporary expedient, it legitimized the notion that a college degree should be and actually was within reach for millions of Americans.”

The interview also touches on the differences between the original G.I. Bill and its post-9/11 iteration, but fails to make mention of the Yellow Ribbon Program, which many private institutions like RMU are using to help veterans bridge the gap between our tuition and what the G.I. Bill pays. The latest edition of Foundations magazine includes an article about the old and new G.I. Bills, and President Dell’Omo discussed them in his letter in the magazine.

— Jonathan Potts

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