By offering college tuition and low-interest home loans to millions of veterans, the GI Bill significantly expanded the middle class in the decades after World War II. At the same time, the then-Veterans Administration’s clinical psychology training program helped to transform psychology. But whether held back by segregation or cultural expectations, not everyone profited equally from the programs.
For African-American service members, of whom almost one million served during World War II, one huge barrier to fully using the GI Bill’s college benefits was a lack of access to higher education.
“Access issues for blacks were significant and really made a difference in terms of their ability to utilize the benefits, as compared to white males,” says Hilary Herbold, PhD, who wrote a paper for the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (Winter, 1994–95) examining the experiences of African-Americans with the GI Bill.
Some 19 states maintained separate colleges and universities for black students, and outside of the publicly funded system, many private colleges and universities outside the South either did not admit blacks or maintained informal quotas, letting in very few, says Gary Orfield, PhD, who co-directs the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles.
States that had segregated primary education systems didn’t devote equal resources to black schools. In fact, at the time of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, fewer than one-quarter of African-American students finished high school, Orfield says. Equal access to higher education didn’t start to open up for African-Americans until the 1960s, and it wasn’t until the 1970s that more than a trickle of African-American students entered formerly closed-off institutions, he says.
Despite the barriers, historically black colleges and universities saw their enrollment almost double, from 43,000 in 1940 to 76,600 in 1950, says Keith Olson, PhD, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Maryland.
Women also didn’t benefit much from the GI Bill in the inaugural years of the VA’s training programs. More than 400,000 women served in the U.S. military during World War II, yet the number of women psychology doctoral students trained in the VA’s clinical psychology program was very low in the early years. According to one informal estimate, only about 5 percent of the students in the first training year of 1946 were women, says Dana L. Moore, PhD, a clinical psychologist who oversaw the program from 1977 to 1985.
The percentages of women psychology students receiving VA training didn’t start to rise significantly until the early 1970s, says Moore, an assistant inspector general with the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General.