American Education (1945-1979)

The GI Bill and the Baby Boom mean that college enrollment skyrockets. The huge influx of GI's required American universities to adapt to the needs of servicemen. The nation-wide increase in enrollment led to a shift in attitude: higher education is seen as the path to liberty, egality and happiness. This led to large-scale attempts to attend elite universities, and a 10-fold increase in the number of students enrolled at 2 year schools.

American Education (1945-1979) American Education (1945-1979) American Education (1945-1979) American Education (1945-1979) American Education (1945-1979)

The GI Bill

The end of WWII led to several monumental shifts in American education. Under the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 (the GI Bill), an unprecedented number of returning GI's enrolled in college. This affected the profile of the "traditional" student: the average GI was older, with a family and/or work experience. Additionally, there was a good chance he had not been considered "college material" before the war, due to perceived economic or intellectual limitations. The academic success of students enrolled under the GI Bill shattered the image that college was only for the financially or academically advantaged. However, the GI Bill also perpetuated the the status quo by mainly enrolling white males; it was more than a generation before the number of women in college rivaled the number of men, and minority enrollment still has not matched that of whites.

Colleges and Universities Change

It was considered the patriotic duty of colleges and universities to change to serve the needs of returning GI's; these changes have had far-reaching repercussions. Many all-women's schools began to transition to co-ed by enrolling returning servicemen. Other colleges rapidly adapted as well: Curriculum was streamlined; year-round schedules were adopted to better provide for the busy returning GI, and to get him in and out faster; Academic credit was given for military work, one of the first examples of non-academic work being viewed as directly relevant to the attainment of a degree.

A Path to Liberty, Egality and Happiness

The demographic and curriculum shifts of the 40's and 50's contributed to a long-term shift in national attitude. When the Baby Boom began, a strong belief in the power of education was passed on. By the time the Baby Boomers were in college (1963-onwards) higher education was seen as a path to liberty, egality, happiness.

The Baby Boom generation had their own effect on the demographics of the college population. Female boomers were strongly encouraged to pursue a college degree: they outnumbered men by 1970. Boomers of both genders were encouraged to pursue the best education that they could, leading to the first large-scale interest in attending elite universities. As those schools became correspondingly more difficult to get into, Boomers also attended 2-year school at a greater rate than any generation previous.

The Best Education

Baby Boomers enrolling in college in unprecedented numbers changed the nature and significance of a BA. This led to an economic transition where a Bachelor's Degree was increasingly used as a sorting method for job selection. Employers began to view a BA as a mark of a job seeker’s determination, focus, and employability. This change began with returning GI's (who may not have needed the skills that came with a degree, but had the opportunity to pursue one anyway), but the sheer number of Baby Boomers seeking employment in the late 1960's solidified this phenomenon.

Take Aways

  1. More than 7 million WWII veterans go to college under the GI Bill
  2. Colleges must change radically to accommodate the influx of GI's
  3. An increasingly-educated populace views college as the path to happiness and success
  4. Unprecedented numbers of Baby Boomers seek an exceptional college education.

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