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From $60 to a College Education: Origins and Development of the GI Bill®

From $60 to a College Education: Origins and Development of the GI Bill®

American Soldier with graduation hat in front of American flags

Last Updated January 13, 2021

Servicemembers, veterans and their families can take advantage of GI Bill® benefits to earn a college degree, receive training through technical programs, learn to fly, or become licensed or certified in a new vocation. These benefits are designed to help cover the cost of advanced education and help veterans transition into civilian life — but this critical piece of legislation nearly didn’t pass.

The GI Bill® was introduced in 1944, at a time when most legislators agreed that something needed to be done for military veterans. After all, World War I vets received just $60 and a train ticket home upon discharge. The inadequacy of that policy was highlighted during the Great Depression, when veterans faced great difficulties in finding work.

Congress attempted to make things easier by passing the World War Adjusted Act of 1924 (commonly known as the Bonus Act), which provided veterans a bonus based on the number of days served. However, the bonuses were not paid out immediately, which led to protests and standoffs in Washington, D.C., throughout the summer of 1932.

With a consensus that WWII vets deserved more, and a desire to improve upon the Bonus Act, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 – or GI Bill® – was introduced in Congress.

The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (GI Bill® of Rights)

The GI Bill® was intended to help avert another economic crisis, as well as to provide Congress with some redemption. It was introduced in Congress in January 1944, and quickly passed in both the House and the Senate. However, each chamber passed its own version of the bill, and as Senate and House members debated the merits of their individual bills, they deadlocked on unemployment issues. A tie-breaking vote led to the bill being passed, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed it into law on June 22, 1944.

With its key provisions on education and training, loan guaranty for homes, farms and businesses, and unemployment pay, the GI Bill® changed the face of homeownership and college education in America. Some of the bill’s significant impacts include:

  • Veterans entered college and training programs by the millions: In 1947, 49% of college admissions were veterans.
  • By 1956, nearly half of WWII’s 16 million veterans had participated in education or training programs.
  • From 1944 to 1952, nearly 2.4 million WWII veteran home loans were backed by the VA.
  • VA loans totaled more than $50 billion by 1962.
  • Education and economic assistance provided by the GI Bill® helped fuel demand for goods and services across the country.

Veterans of the Korean War found that the Veterans Adjustment Act of 1952 changed how their benefits were paid. Instead of paying colleges and universities directly, veterans received a flat amount each month (about $110) to pay all of their educational expenses. Eventually, payments decreased as tuitions increased.

The Montgomery GI Bill®

The Montgomery GI Bill® was named for Mississippi Representative G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery, who in 1984 designed legislation to ensure that the GI Bill® would live on as a permanent law. It offered educational benefits that Congress hoped would incentivize college-age individuals to enlist in the military. While the bipartisan bill did pass both houses of Congress, it took seven years of effort and nearly two dozen hearings to make it happen.

Under the bill, servicemembers, reservists and veterans received help with education and training for up to 36 months. Benefits cover college, business school, technical and vocational schools, on-the-job training, apprenticeships, flight training, accredited independent study programs and correspondence courses. With its benefits-for-service model, the Montgomery GI Bill® was influential in the transition to an all-volunteer force.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill®

Congress updated the GI Bill® again in 2008, with a focus on veterans with active duty service on or after Sept. 11, 2001. The latest version provides enhanced educational benefits, a monthly housing allowance, up to $1,000 per year to cover books and supplies, and the ability to transfer unused benefits to spouses or dependents.

Veterans Can Build Brighter Futures With the GI Bill®

For decades, millions of veterans and their families have taken advantage of the benefits provided by the GI Bill®. While the struggles to pass the bill were sometimes tumultuous, lawmakers ultimately saw the positive results of providing educational benefits to those who sacrificed to serve our country. Through the GI Bill®, countless careers have been launched, paths to prosperity paved, and lives improved.

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at

VA Benefit Eligibility: Visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Web Enabled Approval Management System (WEAMS) to view which programs of study or courses are currently certified. Benefit certification depends upon your VA determined eligibility, enrollment status and certified program of study.