Know Your Military

75 Years of the GI Bill: How Transformative It’s Been

Jan. 9, 2019

If you went to war for the U.S. before World War II, you were left to your own devices for education, housing and job training when you returned to civilian life. It wasn’t exactly easy, because college and homeownership weren’t attainable dreams for the average American at the time.

That’s why the GI Bill of Rights was created 75 years ago — to make sure American vets were given access to opportunity.

 

GI Bill pamphlets on a table.
GI Bill Pamphlets
Pamphlets regarding educational benefits are displayed as part of the 2018 Fairchild Air Force Base Education Fair at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, Oct. 18, 2018. The education fair provided information regarding tuition assistance and other education benefits available to airmen looking to further their education.
Photo By: Airman 1st Class Lawrence Sena
VIRIN: 181018-F-WH061-142A

 

The GI Bill is considered one of the most significant pieces of federal legislation ever produced.

While it’s been extended and adjusted several times since, here’s the gist of just how transformative this bill was at the time. 


Why It Was Necessary

During World War II, U.S. leaders realized that nearly 16 million American men and women who were serving in the armed forces would be unemployed when the war finally ended, and that this could cause another depression and widespread economic instability similar to the aftereffects of the 1929 stock market crash. To prevent that, experts studied the issue and recommended a series of education and training programs. 

On Jan. 10, 1944, Congress passed the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed it into law June 22, just over two weeks after the Allied invasion of Normandy. It was dubbed the GI Bill of Rights because it offered federal aid to help veterans buy homes, get jobs and pursue an education, and in general helped them to adjust to civilian life again.
 

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the GI Bill at a table surrounded by people.
GI Bill Signing
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the GI Bill of Rights at the White House, June 22, 1944.
Photo By: Courtesy photo
VIRIN: 440602-O-ZZ999-897C


How It Kickstarted Education

The assistance the bill provided for tuition, books, supplies, counseling services and a living allowance caused postwar college and vocational school attendance to jump exponentially. It also kept millions of vets from flooding the job market all at one time.

According to federal statistics:

1
Within its first seven years of use, about 8 million veterans took advantage. U.S. college and university degree-holders more than doubled between 1940 and 1950.
2
Within 50 years, the number of Americans with advanced degrees rose nearly 20 percent.
3
By July 1956, when the bill initially expired, almost half of the 16 million World War II vets had gotten  education or training through the GI Bill.

A man in a cap and gown shakes hands with an Army general on a graduation stage.
Graduation Ceremony
Army Brig. Gen. Kristin K. French congratulates Chief Warrant Officer Jeffrey Thompson on completing his college degree during his deployment, May 23, 2012. French gave the opening remarks for the first college graduation ceremony to be held at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, and handed out certificates to the graduates.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Gregory Williams
VIRIN: 120523-A-ZZ999-003


How It Supported the Baby Boom

We’ve all heard of the infamous baby boom that happened after World War II, when millions of veterans returned home to get married and start families. But because they did so in record numbers, they faced a severe housing shortage. 

A home loan provision of the GI Bill helped with that immensely. By 1955, 4.3 million home loans worth $33 billion had been granted to veterans, who were responsible for buying 20 percent of all new homes built after the war. The boom had a ripple effect across the economy, warding off any concerns of a new depression and creating unparalleled prosperity for a generation. 

President George H.W. Bush summed up the impact of the bill in 1990 by saying, “the GI Bill changed the lives of millions by replacing old roadblocks with paths of opportunity.”

An airman clicks a mouse while looking at a laptop.
Homework Duty
Senior Airman Ryan Zeski uses time during a long flight as a passenger on a Michigan Air National Guard KC-135 Stratotanker to work on some homework for a course he is taking at Oakland University in Michigan, Nov. 8, 2018.
Photo By: Tech. Sgt. Daniel Heaton
VIRIN: 181109-Z-VA676-158A


How It Continues

The GI Bill was extended several times, helping 10.3 million more veterans after the Korean and Vietnam wars. In 2008, a version known as the Post 9/11 GI Bill passed Congress, and more recently, the Forever GI Bill expanded benefits for vets. 

There are a few versions from which to choose nowadays, with the most-used being the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Since its implementation in August 2009, the Department of Veterans Affairs has provided educational benefits to nearly 800,000 veterans and their families totaling more than $12 billion.