As World War II was winding down, the nation's policy makers struggled to determine what to do with the millions of servicemen and servicewomen who would soon return to civilian life. Recalling the pre-war economic depression, the nation's leaders and citizens feared that there would not be enough jobs to absorb those returning from military service. The nation's political leaders had an answer that would delay the returning military personnel's entry into the job market, improve their skills, and reward them for serving their county: Send them to college. The United States Congress passed the Servicemen's Readjustment Act in 1944, a major milestone in federal financing of education.
Known as the GI Bill of Rights, this act broke the financial and social barriers to college attendance for millions of Americans who had served in World War II. The public junior college, along with the rest of higher education, received large boosts in enrollment as a result. The GI Bill, which provided what amounted to a scholarship for all eligible veterans, set the precedent for the student financial aid that exists today, especially the idea that students should not be barred from college attendance for financial reasons, and that they should have choices in the colleges they attend and the programs they study.
The philosophy of the GI Bill and of later student aid programs has had, and continues to have, enormous impact on community college enrollment, in the diversity of students enrolled, and on programs and mission.
Excerpted from "The Community College Story" by George B. Vaughan.