The G.I. Bill, World War II, and the Education of Black Americans
"...For those black veterans more likely to be limited to the South in their collegiate choices, the G.I. Bill exacerbated rather than narrowed the economic and educational differences between blacks and whites."
The unprecedented support for the education of returning World War II veterans provided by the G.I. Bill was notably race-neutral in its statutory terms. More than 1 million black men had served in the military during World War II and these men shared in eligibility for educational benefits, which included tuition payments and a stipend for up to four years of college or other training. Yet, the effects of military service and the availability of educational benefits may have differed by race and geography as black men from the South returned to segregated systems of higher education, with relatively limited opportunities at historically black institutions.
In Closing the Gap or Widening the Divide: The Effects of the G.I. Bill and World War II on the Educational Outcomes of Black Americans (NBER Working Paper No. 9044), authors Sarah Turner and John Bound conclude that the G.I. Bill had a markedly different effect on educational attainment for black and white veterans after the war. While the introduction of generous student aid through the G.I. Bill held the promise of significantly reducing black-white gaps in educational opportunity and long-run economic outcomes, the G.I. Bill exacerbated rather than narrowed the economic and educational differences between blacks and whites among men from the South.
For white men, the combination of World War II service and G. I. benefits had substantial positive effects on collegiate attainment, with a gain of about 0.3 years of college and an increase in college completion of about 5 percentage points. For black men, however, the results were decidedly different for those born in the southern states versus those born elsewhere. The combination of World War II service and the availability of G.I. benefits led to an increase in educational attainment of about 0.4 years of college for black men born outside the South, while there were few gains in collegiate attainment among black men from the South.
Limited collegiate opportunities for blacks from the South decreased the effect of the G.I. Bill for this group and help to explain why this group did not share the same gains in collegiate attainment as whites and blacks in the North. At the conclusion of World War II, blacks wanting to attend college in the South were restricted in their choices to about 100 public and private institutions. Few of the post-secondary institutions for blacks offered education beyond the baccalaureate and more than a quarter of these institutions were junior colleges, with the highest degree below the B.A. Small in scale and lagging in resources per student, the historically black colleges in the South were ill-prepared to accommodate the rise in demand from returning veterans. What is more, access to information about veterans' benefits and advising services may have differed with racial groups, and the lack of black counselors was particularly marked in the deep South, with only about a dozen black counselors for all of Georgia and Alabama and none in Mississippi. While the G.I. Bill also covered non-collegiate vocational and technical training, the authors find that among black veterans born in the South vocational and technical training was not a substitute for collegiate participation.
The authors conclude that the availability of benefits to black veterans had a substantial and positive impact on their educational attainment outside the South. However, for those black veterans more likely to be limited to the South in their collegiate choices, the G.I. Bill exacerbated rather than narrowed the economic and educational differences between blacks and whites.
-- Les Picker