Going to War and Going to College: Veteran’s benefits

Going to War and Going to College: Veteran’s benefitsFor white men, the combination of World War II service and the availability of veteran’s benefits increased postsecondary educational attainment. To the extent that these positive effects can be attributed to the G.I. Bill, the behavioral responses to this program are largely consistent with estimates of the response of students to changes in tuition cost or the opportunity cost of college. How the G.I. Bill affected the distribution of collegiate participation among students from different socio-economic backgrounds and varying levels of precollegiate achievement remains an interesting question not resolved by this analysis. For racial and ethnic minorities, the availability of educational benefits through the G.I. Bill had the potential to reshape educational investments dramatically. However, the persistence of segregation – both in the military and in civilian life – may have also affected opportunities for educational advancement. Overall, our estimates suggest the G.I. Bill did benefit blacks. Small sample sizes for blacks limit our ability to make inferences about the magnitude of the effect of World War II and the availability of the G.I. Bill on minority group members. The continued segregation of the universities in the South and the capacity constraints of the historically blacks schools may have also placed some limits on the opportunities for minorities. Still, the likely presence of substantial liquidity constraints for many blacks may have magnified the relative effects of the G.I. Bill for this group of veterans.
Distinguishing the true social costs and benefits of the G.I. Bill requires substantial information on the general equilibrium consequences of the program and the supply side adjustments. Spillover effects of the G.I. Bill may have arisen in the tuition price or class size for colleges and universities. Beyond the effects on educational attainment, it may be that some of the most lasting impacts of the college enrollment of World War II veterans are not visible in educational attainment, but took the form of more subtle institutional changes that widened the pipeline to elite schools to include public school graduates and students from a wider range of ethnic, religious and geographic backgrounds.
The initial World War II G.I. Bill was signed into law by President Roosevelt on June 22, 1944 [Serviceman’s Readjustment Act, Public Law 346]. The historical precedent in providing benefits to returning servicemen can be traced to benefits provided to those enlisting during World War II in Canada and the “Wisconsin Educational Bonus Law of 1919.” Although there was a long national history of providing educational and training benefits to disabled veterans, education benefits had not been provided on a national scale to able-bodied men in the U.S. in conflicts prior to World War II. As with previous conflicts, there was an explicit program to meet the needs of those veterans who became disabled in the war effort under the Vocational Rehabilitation Act Public, passed by Congress as Public Law 16 in March 1943. This program provided explicit counseling, supervision during training and employment placement services. The distinctive feature of the G.I. Bill was its availability to nearly all veterans, irregardless of prior academic achievement and disability status.