GI Bill

views updated Jun 11 2018


The GI Bill created a comprehensive package of benefits, including financial assistance for higher education, for veterans of U.S. military service. The benefits of the GI Bill are intended to help veterans readjust to civilian life following service to their country and to encourage bright, motivated men and women to volunteer for military duty. This legislation came in two parts: the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 and the Montgomery GI Bill.

Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944

The first GI Bill was proposed and drafted by the american legion, led by former Illinois governor John Stelle, during world war ii. The public remembered a post-World War I recession, when millions of veterans returned to face unemployment and homelessness. Twice as many veterans would return from World War II, and widespread economic hardship was a real concern. A healthy postwar economy, it seemed, would depend on providing soldiers with a means to support themselves once they were back home.

Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst became the bill's most ardent and vocal supporter. Hearst and his nationwide string of newspapers lobbied the public and members of Congress to support those who served their country, and his effort was a success. The bill unanimously passed both chambers of Congress in the spring of 1944. President franklin d. roosevelt signed the bill into law on June 22, 1944, just days after the D-Day invasion of Normandy (Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, ch. 268, 58 Stat. 284).

The original GI Bill offered veterans up to $500 a year for college tuition and other educational costs—ample funding at the time. An unmarried veteran also received a $50-a-month allowance for each month spent in uniform; a married veteran received slightly more. Other benefits included mortgage subsidies, enabling veterans to purchase homes with relative ease.

Despite initial misgivings over its success, the GI Bill proved to be enormously effective. Prior to its passage, detractors feared that paying the education expenses of veterans would lead to overcrowding at colleges, which before World War II were accessible predominantly to members of society's upper class. Critics were concerned that veterans would wreak havoc on

educational standards and overburden campuses with their lack of preparation for the rigors of higher learning.

College campuses did become grossly over-crowded in the postwar years: approximately 7.8 million World War II veterans received benefits under the original GI Bill, and 2.2 million of those used the program for higher education. By 1947 half of all college students were veterans. Prefabricated buildings and Quonset huts were used as classrooms, and military barracks were often converted into dormitories. However, having spent a large part of their youth engaged in battle, World War II veterans were highly motivated. GIs in their late twenties and early thirties returned to the United States in droves, anxious to catch up with their nonmilitary peers, marry, settle down, and support a family. The benefits provided by the GI Bill facilitated these goals.

Veterans were not the only beneficiaries of the GI Bill. Colleges, with increased enrollments, received years of financial security following its enactment. Veterans demanded more practical college course work, and this need led to a changed concept of higher education, with more emphasis on degree programs like business and engineering. The lines of race, class, and religion blurred as higher education became attainable for all veterans. No longer was a college degree—and the higher paying jobs that normally follow it—limited to members of the upper class. Federal income increased as the average income of taxpayers in the United States increased, and as the veterans graduated from colleges, women and members of minorities enrolled to fill the gaps they left. The GI Bill's mortgage subsidies led to an escalated demand for housing and the development of suburbs. One-fifth of all single-family homes built in the 20 years following World War II were financed with help from the GI Bill's loan guarantee program, symbolizing the emergence of a new middle class.

Montgomery GI Bill

Following the United States involvement in the vietnam war and the end of the military draft in 1973, the number of qualified young adults willing to voluntarily serve in the military declined. In 1984 Representative G. V. ("Sonny") Montgomery (D-MS), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, proposed a new GI Bill to encourage military service, even in times of peace. That year President ronald reagan signed into law the Montgomery GI Bill (38 U.S.C.A. § 1401), which as of the early 2000s continues to provide optional benefits for qualified U.S. veterans.

The Montgomery GI Bill is a voluntary plan that requires a contribution from the soldier who chooses to take part. Upon entry into the armed services, including the national guard and military reserves, participants may elect to have their military pay reduced by $100 each month of the first 12 months of service. This sacrifice makes them eligible to receive up to $400 a month for 36 months toward tuition and other educational expenses. To receive these benefits, soldiers must receive an honorable discharge, earn a high school diploma or its equivalent, and serve in active duty for the length of their enlistment. The federal government supplies funding but does not set standards or administer the plan; the veterans administration determines whether a veteran is eligible, and the colleges and universities (including religious and vocational schools) make admissions policies and keep track of expenditures.

Effects of the GI Bill

The GI Bill, in both its versions, is widely regarded as a success. Military recruiters routinely promote its benefits as a way to attract and enlist the best and brightest young adults: in 1996, 95 percent of new armed services recruits were high school graduates and 94.8 percent of eligible recruits chose to enroll in the education program. (Three-fourths of all women and men who have enlisted since the program began have enrolled.)

In 2000, President bill clinton signed an amendment to the Montgomery GI Bill that allows for a "Top-Up" benefit. This benefit, which equals the difference between the total cost of a particular course and the amount of tuition assistance paid by the military, effectively allows enrollees to receive 100 percent tuition assistance. In 2001, President george w. bush signed two additional bills. The Veterans' Opportunities Act of 2001 (Pub. L. 107-14) became law on June 5, 2001 and the 21st Century GI Enhancement Act (Pub. L. 107-103) became law on December 27, 2001. Both bills amended Title 38 to provide greater benefits to service men and women.

Beneficiaries of the GI Bill include Presidents george h. w. bush and gerald r. ford; Vice President albert gore jr.; Chief Justice william h. rehnquist and Justice john paul stevens, both of the U.S. Supreme Court; Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher; journalists David Brinkley and John Chancellor; actors Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman, and Jason Robards Jr.; and former Dallas Cowboys football coach Tom Landry.

further readings

Asch, Beth J., et al. 2000. An Assessment of Recent Proposals to Improve the Montgomery GI Bill. Santa Monica, Calif.: Rand.

Bennett, Michael J. 1996. When Dreams Come True: The GI Bill and the Making of Modern America. Washington, D.C.: Brassey's Inc.

Evans, Philip G., II. 1989. "The New GI Bill: The Trojan Horse of the 1900s?" Army Law 17 (October).

Hyman, Harold M. 1986. American Singularity: The 1787 Ordinance, the 1862 Homestead and Morrill Acts, and the 1944 GI Bill. Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press.

Veterans Administration, GI Bill. Available online at <> (accessed October 14, 2003).


Armed Services; Veterans Affairs Department.

GI Bill of Rights

views updated May 14 2018


In 1944, social and economic concerns, higher education, veterans' issues, and federal legislation merged in a way never before experienced in the history of the United States with the passage of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act, more commonly known as the GI Bill of Rights. This single piece of legislation simultaneously changed the lives of millions of veterans who served in World War II and affected social, economic, and educational devel opment in the United States for decades to follow. Both veterans and historians frequently argue that the GI Bill was one of the most influential and beneficial pieces of legislation passed by the federal government in the twentieth century.

In light of events following World War I, particularly the Bonus Army's Washington protests, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration strove to develop legislation that would provide compensation for veterans, help them adjust to postwar society, and keep them from overloading the workforce as soon as the war ended. The economic and employment issues raised following World War I contributed to the comprehensive nature of the GI Bill, which was the first legislation to include all veterans and provide them with more than just basic living allowances. These efforts to develop a program of benefits for the veterans of World War II began well before the war ended.

The National Resources Planning Board Conference on Postwar Readjustment of Civilian and Military Personnel, a group organized by Roosevelt, first met on July 17, 1942. In June 1943, the Conference presented a report that advocated providing veterans with twelve months of schooling at any level and three years of education for a select number of veterans who showed particular aptitude. They also suggested that there would be a need for limited vocational training. Another group, the Osborn Committee of the Armed Forces Committee on Postwar Educational Opportunities for Service Personnel, also focused on the issue of educational opportunities for veterans. By the fall of 1943, the American Legion joined in the movement and began to work on a comprehensive bill that would include medical care, unemployment compensation, education and vocational training, home and farm loans, and a system of furlough pay. Jack Cejnar, the American Legion's acting director of public relations, eventually labeled their proposed program the GI Bill of Rights.

On June 22, 1944, President Roosevelt signed the GI Bill of Rights into law. Title Two of the measure dealt with the education and training of veterans. All veterans who had served at least ninety days in the military and were not more than twenty-five years old when they enlisted had the chance to receive one year of schooling. They could also receive additional education equal to the amount of time they served, a monthly subsistence allowance while in school, and money for fees, tuition, books, and supplies.

In addition to financial assistance, the bill offered the veterans a fair amount of freedom in their educational decisions. The veterans attended their schools of choice. The government also refrained from imposing itself on the schools' administrators and their curriculum decisions. Evidence of the bill's influence on higher education is evident in the fact that at some colleges veterans made up over half of the student body in the late 1940s. During the bill's peak year, 1947, nearly 49 percent of all college students in the United States were veterans. From the GI Bill's enactment in June 1944 to its end on July 25, 1956, close to 7.8 million veterans, of an eligible 15 million, received education and training with the assistance of the bill. Of these, approximately 2.2 million attended colleges and universities and 3.5 million attended other schools. An additional 2.1 million received on-thejob training and farm training. Over the twelve years the bill was in place for World War II veterans, the education program cost $14.5 billion.

In addition to addressing issues of education for the veterans, the GI Bill provided veterans with home, farm, and business loans that helped them to establish themselves financially after the war. These loans contributed to their ability to buy homes, purchase farmland and farming equipment, or start their own businesses. Also, under the GI Bill's 52–20 clause, all veterans were eligible to receive $20 a week for 52 weeks while they looked for work, which in that era was a significant contribution to living expenses. Only about one-fifth of the money set aside for the 52–20 Club, as this program was known, was distributed because most returning veterans promptly found work or used the bill's education benefits.

The broad nature of the coverage provided by the GI Bill indicated the societal goals of the legislation's authors. Thus, the GI Bill received significant political and public support, as veterans returning from the "good war" were viewed as heroes and the public believed they deserved extra acknowledgment. Its wide scope had extensive impact on society and education. Higher education in America dramatically changed and grew as a result of the bill; some schools tripled in size in less than a decade. Instead of flooding the job market on their return, as had happened after World War I, these veterans opted to receive education and training that ultimately made them strong contributors to society. Additionally, home ownership became increasingly accessible as a result of the loans made available by the bill. In essence, the GI Bill democratized many of the dreams held by Americans.


Gubin, E. K. Veteran's Handbook for Veterans of World War II and Their Dependents, Including an Explanation of the GI Bill of Rights. Washington, DC: Army Times, 1945.

Kandel, Isaac Leon. The Impact of the War upon Higher Education. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1948.

Mohr, Clarence L. "World War II and the Transformation of Southern Higher Education." In Remaking Dixie: The Impact of World War II on the American South, edited by Neil R. McMillen. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1997.

Olson, Keith W. The G.I. Bill, the Veterans, and the Colleges. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1974.

Ross, Davis R. B. Preparing for Ulysses: Politics and Veterans during World War II. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969.

Kathryn St. Clair Ellis

See also:American Legion; Demobilization; Veterans' Benefits; Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Gi Bill

views updated May 23 2018


The GI Bill has been called the single most significant legislation passed by Congress in the twentieth century. It created benefits for veterans of U.S. military service, including financial assistance for higher education. The GI Bill is composed of two pieces of legislation, the Serviceman's Readjustment Act of 1944 and the Montgomery GI Bill. It is intended to help veterans leaving military service readjust to civilian life and to encourage qualified individuals to volunteer for military duty.

When World War I (19141918) ended, millions of veterans returned from fighting overseas and were faced with unemployment and homelessness. The country went into an economic recession. Twice as many veterans returned from World War II (19391945), creating a concern that the economy would be even harder hit by economic difficulties. In order to keep the economy strong and to help returning veterans, the American Legion, led by former Illinois governor John Stelle, proposed and drafted the Serviceman's Readjustment Act. The bill unanimously passed both houses of Congress in 1944.

This was the original GI Bill. Among its benefits, veterans were eligible for up to $500 in educational costs, a monthly allowance, and mortgage subsidies. Despite initial concerns that college campuses would become overcrowded, the bill was a success. Not only did it positively affect education, but it also changed the face of society as well.

Colleges benefited from the high increase in student enrollments, which assured them financial security for years to come. Over 2.2 million of the 7.8 million World War II veterans receiving benefits used the program for higher education. All eligible veterans could now go to college. As a result, education became more equal, less divided by restrictions of class, race, or religion. The increase in education and skill led to an increase in average taxpayer income, which in turn increased federal income.

The mortgage subsidies provided through the Serviceman's Readjustment Act increased demand for housing and led to development of the suburbs. One fifth of all single-family homes built in the twenty years after World War II were financed with the assistance of the GI Bill's loan guarantee program. All of these factors led to the creation of a new middle class in the United States.

After the Vietnam War (19641975) and the end of the draft in 1973, the number of qualified adults willing to serve in the military declined. Representative G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery, chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, proposed a new GI Bill in 1984 to encourage military service, even in times of peace. That same year, President Ronald Reagan (19811989) signed the Montgomery GI Bill into law.

The Montgomery GI Bill is a voluntary plan. Upon entry into military service, a participant may elect to have $100 deducted from pay each month for the first twelve months of service. In return, the participant is eligible to receive up to $400 per month, for a period of thirty-six months, toward educational expenses. The federal government does not set standards or administer the plan. The Veterans' Administration determines candidate eligibility and schools handle admission and track expenditures.

See also: Recession, Suburbs, World War II

GI Bill of Rights

views updated Jun 11 2018


GI BILL OF RIGHTS. The initials "GI" originally stood for anything of "government issue." Eventually, they came to designate an enlisted soldier in the U. S. armed forces. In 1944 Congress passed the Servicemen's Readjustment Act, the so-called GI Bill of Rights, which provided government aid for veterans' hospitals and vocational rehabilitation; for the purchase by veterans of houses, farms, and businesses; and for four years of college education for veterans. Later, the act extended to veterans of the Korean War. The Readjustment Benefits Act of 1966 gave similar rights to all veterans of service in the U. S. armed forces, whether during wartime or peacetime. Subsequent acts provided for additional benefits. With the abolition of the draft in 1973, benefits were tied to length of service.


Hyman, Harold M. American Singularity: The 1787 Northwest Ordinance, the 1862 Homestead and Morrill Acts, and the 1944 GI Bill. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986.

ChristopherLasch/a. e.

See alsoBonuses, Military ; Pensions, Military and Naval ; Veterans Affairs, Department of .