GI Bill transformed America Nostalgia: Modern-day politicians model their favorite initiatives after the generous benefits provided to postwar veterans.

The Education Beat

February 19, 1997|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Bob Dole and Bill Clinton had one thing in common during the presidential campaign: Both invoked the GI Bill as a model for LTC their social initiatives.

Dole wanted to give middle-class scholarships to private and parochial schools along the lines of the monumental 1940s legislation. Clinton as recently as his State of the Union address last month called for "a new GI Bill for American workers" in the form of $2,600 grants to the unemployed and underemployed. The grants could be used to pay college tuition.

Earlier, the president had built his AmeriCorps community service program on a nostalgic model of the GI Bill.

It's easy to be nostalgic about the legislation. Signed into law by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944, it paid the full cost of higher education for millions of soldiers returning to civilian life.

It even provided a monthly stipend of up to $75 in its early years. That was more than he'd earned in the service of his country, remembers Milton Bates, a retired Baltimore businessman who attended Baltimore Junior College (the predecessor of today's Baltimore City Community College) and the University of Maryland School of Law on the GI Bill.

"It was a great deal," says Bates. "I didn't have the what-with to go to college otherwise."

The bill helped transform American life. Higher education became an egalitarian enterprise, open to the many instead of the few. College enrollment more than doubled in a few years. Marriage patterns changed as veterans found their mates in colleges rather than factories. Postwar America became more enlightened because of the GI Bill.

The landscape around colleges and universities also changed, as Quonset-hut "Vetvilles" sprang up in the mud of College Park, Westminster and elsewhere, and as whole towns -- Levittown, N.Y., for example -- resulted from the veterans' rush to higher education.

Taxpayers invested $7 billion in the first round of GI Bill education programs through 1952, but an analysis by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress found that the return in productivity in those seven years could have been as high as $84 billion.

Because it's 53 years old, the GI Bill can be invoked nostalgically by politicians of the '90s, despite the fact that it still lives, now called the Sonny Montgomery GI Bill, after the Mississippi congressman who sponsored its 1995 revision for soldiers returning from the Persian Gulf war. About 5,600 men and women are attending Maryland colleges, universities and proprietary schools under the modern version, which provides nowhere near the full cost of a veteran's college education.

Can the bill serve as a model for peacetime legislation -- or was it a creature of its time -- a half-century ago when the nation, fresh from war, was poised for rapid expansion? Those millions of veterans, most of them men, were rewarded for saving the world for democracy. Today's civilian services such as AmeriCorps are much different. And today's candidates for GI Bill-like benefits are much different from the men who returned from battle to lead the nation into the latter half of the century.

Stars come out to welcome Sylvan

Education Beat went to the Sylvan Learning Systems ribbon-cutting fair yesterday at 1000 Lancaster St. in the Inner Harbor East. The birds and the bees were there. In fact, there has rarely been such a collection of political, business and education stars under one roof in the city's modern history.

Here's a partial breakdown: a university system chancellor, several public and private college presidents, most of the Baltimore City Council, the mayor and two county executives, a U.S. senator and a U.S. representative, the state superintendent of schools, the state comptroller, the lieutenant governor, several members of the General Assembly and department heads, a gaggle of economic development chieftains, perhaps 50 educators involved with Sylvan in its growing number of enterprises, representatives of three federal departments, a brace of business executives, Sylvan's 31-year-old president Douglas L. Becker and his mother, Rheda.

Many came to celebrate that rare entity, a major business moving from the suburbs to the city.

But many others came out of education interest. Sylvan appears to be succeeding in breaking down the barriers between the public sector and the private sector, in dissolving what Becker yesterday called that "harmful and false dichotomy" between public education and private business. It will be fascinating to watch developments as Sylvan grows.

PTA celebrates its first century

Monday was the 100th anniversary of the National Parent Teacher Association, the oldest and largest volunteer organization in U.S. education. The PTA was actually founded as the National Congress of Mothers in Washington on Feb. 17, 1897.

But fathers were soon included, and PTA leaders helped found the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers in 1926. The two organizations merged in 1970.

Happy birthday, dear PTA.

Pub Date: 2/19/97

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