In researching for this article, I discovered some information that was totally new to me.
I was released from the military in September of 1956. I had volunteered in order to participate in the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly referred to as the GI Bill of Rights.
The Veterans Administration (VA) was responsible for carrying out the law’s key provisions: “education and training, loan guaranty for homes, farms or businesses, and unemployment pay.” I was unaware of much of this, as my concern was paying for college tuition.
The following statement gives some significant facts concerning the Bill and its impact on our country.
“Before the war, college and homeownership were, for the most part, unreachable dreams for the average American. Thanks to the GI Bill, millions who would have flooded the job market instead opted for education. In the peak year of 1947, veterans accounted for 49 percent of college admissions. By the time the original GI Bill ended on July 25, 1956, 7.8 million of 16 million World War II veterans had participated in an education or training program.”
It looks like I received the Bill just shortly before it was terminated – a fact I had completely forgotten. In later years there were other benefits to veterans, but none as generous nor as revolutionary as this.
I can’t remember exactly how much money I received per month during each semester while registered for classes, but I think it was approximately $240. This, with a part-time job, was enough to complete five degrees, my final one being a Ph.D. from Ohio State.
After all of these years in colleges and universities, I was debt-free. This is simply unbelievable in light of the cost of education today.
The average student graduating from a U.S. college in 2018 left with a debt of $29,800, including both private and federal debt. In addition to this, 14% of their parents took out an average of $35,600 in Parent PLUS loans.
To me, these facts make the proposal of some presidential contenders for free higher education seem very reasonable. After all, several European countries provide free higher education.
I recently talked with a U.S. citizen who had received a tuition-free master’s degree from an accredited university in Europe – instruction in English! There are at least a dozen countries in Europe that provide free tuition at universities to U.S. students – although you do have to pay for room and board.
With this background I will relate a summer school experience I had in California made possible by the GI Bill.
In order to get to California, I hitch-hiked to Chicago with a friend to contact a person who wanted their car in California. This “car relocation service” was new to me, but I see on the internet that it is alive and thriving today. One such company currently advertises 43 offices across the country.
It was an uneventful trip to San Diego where I contacted a cousin who was a captain on a naval ship where we ate dinner – after being picked up on shore in a very special motor boat.
The next day we were in Claremont, California where we spent the summer studying. At the end of the term I hitched a ride to Chico, California, some 500 miles to the north, to visit a friend. (I had made arrangements with a naval pilot friend to fly me there, but he failed to show.)
After three days there I started back to Dayton, again hitch-hiking. This trip is not so clear in my mind – it was 1958!
The most memorable event was being picked up by a fellow who was clearly drunk. He asked if I would drive, which I gladly accepted. I drove through three states while he spent his time sobering up in the back seat. For some reason I remember going through Reno and Salt Lake City and Denver, as well as purchasing a 10-gallon hat in Utah. Beyond that the trip is a blur.
Again, I would urge everyone to travel and look for ways of doing so with the least possible expense.
My son found a way to purchase a round-trip ticket to Europe for $500. The only catch is that you must purchase the ticket a year in advance – in this case it was from Chicago to Rome. He and his wife now have tickets for next year from Chicago to Lisbon, Portugal, again $500.
I have known too many people who think they must wait until they are financially ready or retired – that is not sound advice. Just delay purchasing a new car for a year or so and you can afford a very good trip.
Over my lifetime I have driving well over 800,000 miles and only purchased two new cars. Cars last much longer these days.
Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus of Wilmington College.