Going to War and Going to College: Education benefits

Education benefits
Veterans of World War II were eligible to receive unprecedented federal support for educational investments in the form of the G.I. Bill. Unlike previous federal expenditures in education, grants were awarded to individuals rather than institutions. Veterans serving more than 90 days (through either conscription or voluntary enlistment) or those discharged early through service disability received benefits through the G.I. Bill. Those who served on active duty between September 1940 and July 1947 were eligible, with the stipulation that men choosing to use these benefits commenced schooling by July 1951. Educational benefits extended from a minimum of one year and up to four years, depending on length of service and age. Moreover, most men would have been eligible for the maximum benefits, with tours of service often exceeding three years. Benefits included up to $500 in tuition and educational expenses paid to the institution and a stipend, which varied with family size and was adjusted upward over the course of the program. The stipend was a monthly cash allowance at the level of $65 per month single veterans and $90 per month for married veterans, with an additional increase in the stipend level taking effect in April 1948; see Veterans’ Benefits Appendix for details. At the time, the subsidy for tuition and books was sufficient to cover the charges of traditionally expensive schools like Harvard University or Williams College. Moreover, the monthly stipends were about one half the opportunity cost of not working for a single veteran and about 70 percent of the opportunity cost for a married veteran, based on the monthly median income for the population in 1947 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, Series P-7). [Appendix A provides a fuller description of the World War II G.I. Bill and its cousins in later conflicts.] In short, the educational benefits available to returning World War II veterans presented an historically unparalleled federal subsidy for college enrollment, which was neither means-tested nor ability-tested.
The World War II G.I. Bill laid the foundation for G.I. Bills providing educational benefits for those serving in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. For Korean War veterans, the structure of the benefits was somewhat different (and potentially somewhat less generous). Under the law for Korean veterans, the $500 tuition payment was dropped in favor of higher subsistence payments, with students receiving between $110 and $160 per month, depending on the number of dependents. The effect of this change in program design was that for Korean veterans differences among colleges in tuition costs directly increased the net cost of attendance, while the tuition stipend available to World War II veterans created a long range over which differences in college tuition did not change the net cost. The maximum period of educational benefits was 36 months, rather than the 48 months granted to World War II veterans, and the computation of eligibility provided for a day and one half for each day served, rather than the minimum of one year provided to World War II veterans.

Appendix 1