Going to War and Going to College: G.I. benefits

Table 2 provides some evidence on the extent to which returning veterans used the G.I. Bill to help finance college attendance. Among World War II veterans, those who turned 18 during the war were more likely to use benefits than those turning 18 before the start of the war, even though those turning 18 before the start of the war may have served somewhat longer tours of duty. While about 50 percent of veterans born between 1923 and 1928 used the G.I. benefits, the takeup rate was appreciably less for those men born five years earlier, with this rate hovering between 27 and 40 percent. Similarly, while men turning 18 during the war used between 8 and 12 months of benefits on average, those born earlier used the G.I. Bill for appreciably fewer months of schooling. Such substantial differences in the take up rates would seem to indicate that veterans who reached the age of 18 before the U.S. entry into the war were less likely to return to school after the war was over. This makes sense for an overlapping set of reasons. First, older veterans were less likely to have had their education disrupted. Second, those that had been working prior to entry into the military would often have had jobs to return to. Third, the age per se of the veteran is likely to have had an effect of the individual’s enthusiasm for educational investments.
Thus far, the analysis is framed in terms of measuring the effects of World War II service relative to a control group, which is assumed to be no military service and no G.I. benefits. If researchers could rewind the clock or measure educational attainment at the start of 1950, this would certainly be true. However, the hostilities in Korea may have had a marked effect on the presumed “control group.” Men who did not serve in World War II were at greater risk of serving in the Korean conflict and Korean veterans were also eligible for educational benefits. However, we would not expect the program effects to be the same among men from the same birth cohorts serving in different conflicts. Not only were these Korean War veterans eligible for a somewhat different educational program, those Korean War veterans from cohorts at risk for World War II service would have been older at the time of military service and subsequent collegiate enrollment. As a result, they may have completed their formal education or already established themselves professionally before the being called for service. Among Korean War veterans, the takeup rate on the educational benefits differs across cohorts, as well, with those born in 1932 and later more likely to use benefits and to use them for a longer term than their peers born earlier. To this point, the benefit utilization rate for men born between 1932 and 1935 ranged from 47 to 57 percent (see Appendix Table 1).