Letters to Loyola: A Modern GI Bill to Boost the Economy
November 18, 2021
Congress is considering whether to greatly expand Pell grants. Making federal assistance possible for a wider group of families, and for amounts that keep up with the actual cost of college, would be an enormous help for the majority of our students. I hope you’ll pay close attention.
Along with the other Jesuit university presidents, I’ve been busily speaking to members of Congress about why it’s such a good idea. Besides sharing stories about your extraordinary talent and great need, here is what I tell them.
The last time the American economy contracted as dramatically as it did last spring was in 1946. At the end of World War II, factories producing aircraft carriers and munitions shut down, just as 16 million young veterans headed home in search of employment. The economy shrank by a whopping 11.6% (versus the 3.5% we saw in 2020).
Congress came up with one very clever idea to help the American economy quickly bounce back. The GI Bill offered a free education to those millions of returning veterans, a creative stimulus package that provided an enormous lift to the American economy. That’s essentially what the AJCU presidents and I are advocating now, as Congress considers spending.
We hope to increase — ideally, to double — Pell grants as a way to expand opportunities for upward economic mobility, strengthen the middle class and in turn boost the national economy.
The GI Bill benefit was enormously popular, to the surprise of many at the time. Half of returning veterans made use of the opportunity — two million to go to college and six million to vocational school. (That number would have been higher, but segregation cruelly limited educational options for Black veterans.)
The economic impact of the GI Bill went far beyond curbing unemployment. It provided a permanent boost to America’s ability to compete in an increasingly global marketplace. Between 1940 and 1950, the number of Americans holding a degree more than doubled.
The GI Bill funded the education of 14 Americans who would go on to win Nobel prizes, 91,000 future scientists, 238,000 teachers and 450,000 engineers. Not only did that make American ideals of meritocracy far more real, it also represented self-interest. It turns out that investing in the minds and capacity of Americans would result in countless economic dividends and further launch the American economy as the new superpower.
Today at Loyola, more than 40% of our students are currently Pell-eligible, with 99% of all students receiving some sort of financial aid, and many struggling to attain more. Two years into the global pandemic, millions more students across the country, and here in Louisiana, are in critical need of grant aid and increased eligibility, if they are going to continue their education. All of you hold promise.
So, let’s fight for opportunity, for you and for others. In an increasingly knowledge-based economy, education is infrastructure just as important as highways and bridges. Investing heavily in higher education not only greatly expands opportunities for students who otherwise might not be able afford a college education, but it would jumpstart the American economy following the worst financial crisis in a generation.
Prayers and blessings,