Black History Month compels us to explore the experiences of Black WWII veterans with the G.I. Bill and the historical forces that, today, present obstacles to current Black college students.
I. Economic Impact of the G.I. Bill
In honoring American veterans’ service in WWII, the original G.I. Bill profoundly altered the American economy and the higher education landscape. It is widely credited as a major driver in the growth of America’s middle class in the post-War boom years.
“The G.I. Bill became one of the major forces that drove an economic expansion in America that lasted 30 years after World War II.”
New opportunities were forged for those that served, and it altered the circumstances for people across racial and socioeconomic planes. Through one of its more notable benefits, “the post-World War II G.I. Bill dramatically spiked enrollment in higher education and ballooned America’s ranks of college-educated workers.” Because of the G.I. Bill, millions of veterans were able to utilize their benefits in an attempt to improve their socioeconomic standing in profound ways, allowing them to successfully transition to civilian life.
The G.I. Bill provided veterans with considerable means to finance their education, including all tuition and fees as well as monthly subsistence payments, for a maximum of 48 months (depending on the length of military service). “The education and training benefits constituted by far the most popular program, utilized by 51 percent of all returning veterans, or 7.8 million individuals.” For many Americans, the G.I. Bill was their first opportunity to access an education and take advantage of the economic benefits associated with obtaining a college degree.
“[T]he G.I. Bill effectively transformed higher education in America. Before the war, college had been an option for only 10-15 percent of young Americans, and university campuses became known as a haven for the most privileged classes.”
A more diverse student population was created by providing veterans with the means to pursue an education through their earned benefits. Veterans made up a substantial portion of the student population, as many took advantage of the available higher education options. In fact, “by 1947, veterans accounted for [forty-nine] percent of students enrolled in American colleges . . . [t]en years after World War II, 2.2 million veterans had attended college under the law’s provisions.”
Importantly, the G.I. Bill was useful not only to attend college, but also for sub-college programs, including trade and vocational programs, on-the-job and on-the-farm training, and completion of high school. Usage of the G.I. Bill for sub-college training vastly outnumbered usage of the G.I. Bill for college.
“[F]or every veteran who used the G.I. Bill to attend college, more than twice as many—a total of 5.6 million—seized the opportunity to acquire training below the college level. By attending G.I. Bill financed vocational or business schools or by utilizing the bill’s subsidy of apprenticeships, on-the-job training, or on-the-farm training, they gained preparation and credentials for a wide array of occupations.”
Sub-college training might be viewed today as less useful than a college degree. But it would be a mistake to view the value of a college degree and post-war job opportunities in today’s terms, as the political scientist and renowned G.I. Bill authority, Dr. Suzanne Mettler, has explained. From today’s viewpoint, a college degree is all but essential for those aspiring to middle-class jobs and lifestyle, but this was not the case before the mid-1970s:
“The postwar era was… characterized by wage compression, which elevated the earnings and benefits of those without college degrees and depressed the wages of the more highly educated individuals. Those who used the G.I. Bill’s sub-college training programs stood to gain working-class jobs that, at that historical juncture, garnered middle-class salaries and benefits.”
This is particularly relevant to the experiences of Black veterans and their ability to increase their economic standing by using their G.I. Bill.
II. Black Veterans’ G.I. Bill Usage and Obstacles
More than 1.3 million Black veterans served in WWII and earned the same G.I. Bill as their white counterparts. Black veterans used their G.I. Bill in robust numbers. In fact, Black veterans’ usage of their G.I. Bill benefits outnumbered that of white veterans:
“Veterans Administration records verify that, over the first five years of the program, higher proportions of nonwhites than whites used the law’s education and training benefits.”
Importantly, however, Black veterans’ utilization of their benefits and their experience differed compared to white veterans. Although the G.I. Bill benefits were available to all veterans who earned them, in actuality, many Black veterans faced obstacles that hindered them from using their G.I. Bill to the extent available to white veterans. On its face, the G.I. Bill was not discriminatory, but it failed to address the systemic racism that obstructed Black veterans from using their education and housing benefits as intended, while similarly-situated white veterans were, for the most part, able to utilize their benefits without such barriers.
Their stories, before, during, and after service, paint a vivid picture of the systemic racism that impacted their lives once they returned home and sought to utilize the benefits they had earned as a result of their service. Three main obstacles impacted Black veterans’ usage and experience of their G.I. Bill: (1) Black veterans’ unequal footing prior to the war; (2) Jim Crow segregation in the South; and (3) limited employment and housing options in all regions of the country, coupled with the absence of familial experience in higher education.
The unequal footing of Black men and women prior to enlisting had a direct impact on their educational opportunities after the war. Many Black veterans, before their military service, had completed a lower level of education than their white counterparts. Some had not completed a high school education.
“African Americans in the World War II military had gained significantly less education than whites previous to enlistment: Among those who served in the Army, only 17 percent of black soldiers had already graduated from high school, compared to 41 percent of white soldiers . . . it nonetheless meant that black veterans would be less well poised to take advantage of the higher education provisions.”
As a result, although this did not diminish Black veterans’ utilization rates of the G.I. Bill, it did mean that many Black veterans utilized their benefits to finish lower levels of education because they were not yet eligible for college.
The South – where Jim Crow segregation was formally and violently enforced – presented severe obstacles to Black veterans. For those Black veterans who had completed high school prior before their military service, simply finding a college or university to enroll in was not an easy task, as most institutions explicitly forbid Black student enrollment: “Nearly two-thirds of all black veterans continued to live in the South, where most institutions of higher education—with the exception of historically black institutions—remained formally closed to them.”
In the South, Black veterans were at a massive disadvantage, compared to similarly-situated Black veterans in the North or West:
“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 delineated in the Office of Education publications as ‘Colleges for Negroes,’ as segregation in public higher education remained a legal mandate in many southern states.”
Southern Black veterans’ limited college options were further hampered because Historically Black Colleges and Universities lacked the resources and capacity necessary to handle the increase in enrollment of Black veterans seeking a college education. “Tens of thousands of black veterans crowded into the historically black colleges, increasing their enrollment by 50 percent from the beginning of 1940s.” But these schools were small, overwhelmed, and short staffed, with “severely inadequate budgets.” Even finding professors was difficult for the Black colleges:
“Black institutions also faced severe difficulties in hiring sufficient numbers of instructors, as potential instructors sought better opportunities in the North and West or in government service, where they could find better pay and working conditions.”
For Black veterans who did enroll, the course offerings at Historically Black Colleges and Universities were fewer: “Among the historically black colleges, those in only seven states offered post-baccalaureate training and no institution offered an accredited engineering or doctoral program.”
In contrast to the segregated South, many colleges in the North and West responded to the post-war influx of college applicants by “eradicating prior [race-based] obstacles,” part of the more welcoming atmosphere that contributed to the Great Migration of millions of African Americans from the rural South to Northern and Western urban centers. Indeed:
“The confluence of black migration and the demise of quotas produced results that stunned educational professionals. Indeed, analysts in the late 1940s observed that ‘an almost unbelievable increase has taken place’ in the enrollment of blacks at universities in the North and West, ‘probably totaling some four or five thousand students as contrasted with two or two and a half thousand formerly.’”
Southern segregation also impacted veterans’ usage of sub-college training programs – where more Black veterans were using their benefits:
“In sum, whereas white veterans often encountered magnanimous treatment in the implementation of the education and training programs, black veterans’ experiences varied. Those who lived in the North or West, including recent migrants, had the opportunity to attend the same institutions and programs as white beneficiaries. By contrast, black veterans who remained in the South had to use their benefits in a segregated institutional context that subjected them to separate programs with inferior conditions.”
Perhaps most disturbing, ensuring that Southern Black veterans could not attain equal footing with whites may have been intentional by some Congressional authors of the G.I. Bill. At the helm was Mississippi Congressman John Rankin, who advocated confining Japanese Americans to camps, opposed Japanese and African American blood in the nation’s blood supply stock, and, in a political address, warned that his defeat would result in “joy to the heart of every enemy of white people of Mississippi living outside the state and to the enemies of the United States throughout the world.
“When lawmakers began drafting the G.I. Bill in 1944, some Southern Democrats feared that returning Black veterans would use public sympathy for veterans to advocate against Jim Crow laws. To make sure the G.I. Bill largely benefited white people, the Southern Democrats drew on tactics they had previously used to ensure that the New Deal helped as few Black people as possible. During the drafting of the law, the Chair of the House Veterans Committee, Mississippi Congressman John Rankin, played hardball and insisted that the program be administered by individual states instead of the federal government. He got his way. Rankin was known for his virulent racism: He defended segregation, opposed interracial marriage, and had even proposed legislation to confine, then deport, every person with Japanese heritage during World War II.”
Even in the North and West, Black veterans faced racist obstacles, particularly in employment opportunities and their ability to access housing and home loans, due to the entrenched racism of employers and financial institutions.
“Although the G.I. Bill likely served as a vehicle that elevated occupational status among black veterans, the persistence of racial discrimination in employment curtailed the scope of its effects in their lives.”
In the housing sector, the harsh reality was that many “white-run financial institutions refused mortgages and loans to Black people.”
Because white veterans were able to enjoy the full extent of G.I. Bill’s available education and housing benefits, resulting in an increase in civilian job opportunities and higher earning potential, while Black veterans – especially in the South – faced systemic racism, the G.I. Bill gave white veterans an even bigger leg up and may have inadvertently exacerbated the economic divide among racial groups.
III. Gaps in Achievement Today
Discussions and policy approaches today that focus on the benefits of postsecondary education must incorporate a historical lens when considering ways in which higher education can allow for socioeconomic mobility and shape communities on a large scale. It is accepted today that higher education is the most reliable means by which someone can increase their social and economic standing by enabling job security, financial stability, and improving economic standing. In recent years, attention has been given to the disadvantage shared by many prospective first-generation and minority students. This is especially relevant for the current generation of Black veterans whose grandparents served in WWII but were unable to access the G.I. Bill’s full promise because of Southern segregation.
America is well aware that the pathways to, and benefits of, higher education are more easily realized when there is a familial experience in higher education. In the absence of familial knowledge about how to navigate the higher education landscape, Black and first-generation college students are less likely to understand the nuances known by their counterparts who do bring generational knowledge about higher education. This lack of familial experience in higher education can result, for example, in a Black or first-generation student’s applying later in the college admissions cycle, which may have an impact on his or her admission probability. Lack of familial experience can also cause a Black or first-generation student to determine he or she should not attend college, although admitted, because he or she is unsure of how to finance the education and does not receive familial guidance on how to advocate for himself or herself and ask for more scholarship funding.
In our research report, “Postsecondary Outcomes for Undergraduate Veterans of Color,” we found that recent undergraduate students of color—both veterans and nonveterans—are more likely than their white counterparts to exhibit five or more known risk factors for noncompletion of college, such as having dependents or being single parents. Indeed, veterans of color are more than four-times as likely to be first-generation students as white veteran students. These risk factors may explain why undergraduate veterans of color are more likely than their white peers to withdraw without a degree.
Prospective students with little to no college admissions guidance are more likely to wind up at low-quality colleges and take on a substantial amount of student loan debt to finance an education. Our research report found that recent veterans of color were more likely than white veterans to attend for-profit colleges, which are often overpriced and lower quality.
Turning back to the post-war generation, it is important to note that parental education was a significant determinant for post-World War II Black veterans’ usage of their GI Bill:
“What factors influenced individual black veterans’ ability to utilize the G.I. Bill’s education and training benefits? Interestingly, evidence from the 92nd Infantry Division suggests that the only significant determinant of program usage was their parents’ level of education: those with more highly educated parents were especially likely to take advantage of the G.I. Bill.”
Our research team also found that recent undergraduate veterans of color were overall less likely to use their G.I. Bill than their white peers. This was true across all types of colleges and for each year of a student’s college enrollment. However, it’s important to note that the Education Department survey data used by our research team only indicated benefits usage for the academic year in which the survey was conducted (2015-16). These data suggest that examining the use of G.I. Bill benefits over a longer period of time is warranted, particularly in light of the historical fact that Black veterans of WWII used their GI Bill at higher rates than white veterans.
Systemic barriers to higher education might be dismantled, in part, when prospective students have the requisite knowledge to navigate the college admissions process and college experience. The multi-generational experience of Black veterans must not be overlooked in evaluating the factors that, to this day, stand in the way of prospective Black students gaining admission to, and navigating, high-quality higher education institutions.
Continuing to reflect on the systemic racism that obstructed a substantial number of Black veterans from utilizing their benefits to realize their full potential and establish a foundation for their future generations to stand on as they pursued their higher education and professional goals is an obligation that should no longer be withheld and cannot be assigned to the problem solvers of the future.
 Suzanne Mettler, The Only Good Thing Was the G.I. Bill: Effects of the Education and Training Provisions on African-American Veterans’ Political Participation, at 42, Syracuse University (2005) (“Social scientists have long known that World War II marked a critical turning point in the lives of many veterans, meaning that it was an event or experience that shaped their course of life in significant ways . . . a majority of respondents, white and black, included the G.I. Bill among such life transforming events growing up during the depression, military service during World War II, education, job opportunities, and marriage”).
 Mettler, The Only Good Thing Was the G.I. Bill, supra note 1, at 42; see also Suzanne Mettler, Soldiers to Citizens: The G.I. Bill and The Making of The Greatest Generation, at 7, Oxford University Press (2005); See generally History.com Editors, “G.I. Bill,” History.com (May 27, 2010).
 See Mettler, The Only Good Thing Was the G.I. Bill, supra note 1, at 32 (“Among non-blacks, the provisions are known to have expanded access to education across class lines, and have generated greater post-war involvement in civic associations and political activities, particularly among less advantaged beneficiaries”); id. at 42 (“A majority of respondents, white and black, included the G.I. Bill among such life-transforming events as growing up during the Depression, military service during World War II, Education, Job opportunities, and marriage [. . .] strikingly, among African American G.I. Bill users, 92 percent of those who used it for college and 89 percent of those who used it for sub-college program listed it as a life turning point”); see also Mettler, Soldiers to Citizens, supra note 2, at 7,72 (“By attending G.I. financed vocational or business schools or by utilizing the bill’s subsidy of apprenticeships, on-the-job training, or on-the-farm training, they gained preparation and credentials for a wide array of occupations”).
 “FDR Signs the G.I. Bill,” supra note 3 (“Before the war, college had been an option for only 10-15 percent of young Americans, and university campuses had become known as a haven for the most privileged classes. By 1947, in contrast, vets made up half of the nation’s college enrollment; three years later, nearly 500,000 Americans graduated from college, compared with 160,000 in 1939”).
 See Mettler, The Only Good Thing Was the G.I. Bill, supra note 1, at 31 (“The Educational and training benefits constituted by far the most popular program, utilized by 51 percent of all returning veterans, or 7.8 Million individuals”).
 Mettler, Soldiers to Citizens, supra note 2, at 7; see also “FDR Signs the G.I. Bill,” supra note 3 (noting the GI Bill “funded the educations of 22,000 dentists, 67,000 doctors, 91, 000 scientists, 238,000 teachers, 240,000 accountants, 450,000 engineers, 14 Nobel Prize winners, and two dozen Pulitzer prize winners”).
 Mettler, The Only Good Thing Was the G.I. Bill, supra note 1, at 31 (“fourteen percent of all veterans used the full years’ worth of generous unemployment benefits offered by the program, and 29 percent used low-interest guaranteed mortgages for the purchase of homes, farms, or businesses”); see also Mettler, Soldiers to Citizens, supra note 2, at 7 (“By 1955, the federal government had spent a total of $14.5 billion—108 billion in 2002 dollars—for the education and training provisions”).
 Mettler, Soldiers to Citizens, supra note 2, at 7.
 Id., at 7.
 Id., at 7.
 See Mettler, Soldiers to Citizens, supra note 2, at 74; See Erin Blakemore, “How the GI Bill’s Promise Was Denied to a Million Black WWII Veterans,” History.com (Sept. 30, 2019).
 Mettler, The Only Good Thing Was the G.I. Bill, supra note 1, at 41; Joseph Thompson, “The GI Bill should’ve been race-neutral, politicos made sure it wasn’t,” Military Times (Nov. 9, 2019) (“Black service members had a different kind of experience. The G.I. Bill’s race-neutral language had filled the 1 million African American veterans with hope that they, too, could take advantage of federal assistance”).
 See Erin Blakemore, “How the GI Bill’s Promise Was Denied to a Million Black WWII Veterans,” History.com (Sept. 30, 2019); see also Gillian Brockell, “A Black WWII Veteran Voted in Georgia in 1946. He was Lynched for It,” The Washington Post (Sept. 13, 2020) (“To Maceo Snipe, the future must have looked brighter than it ever had. He had served honorably in World War II. Now home in Taylor County, Ga., . . . [h]e hadn’t made it far in school, but he knew the power of education and rewarded his nieces when they got good grades”).
 See Mettler, Soldiers to Citizens, supra note 2, at 51,57.
See Mettler, Soldiers to Citizens, supra note 2, at 56.
 See Mettler, The Only Good thing Was The G.I. Bill, supra note 1, at 41; see also Robert Levinson, “War on the Rocks, Many Black World War II Veterans were Denied their GI Bill Benefits. Time to Fix That” (Sept. 11, 2020) (“The [G.I.] bill paid for college, but how many colleges were open to black Americans? In the South, blacks were barred completely from most colleges and universities, and in the North their options were extremely limited”).
 Sarah Turner and John Bound, “Closing the Gap or Widening the Divide: The Effects of the G.I. Bill and WWII on the Educational Outcomes of Black Americans,” National Bureau of Economic Research (July 2002).
 See generally Mettler, The Only Good Thing Was the G.I. Bill, supra note 1, at 41 (“Still additional facilities did not begin to meet space demands. Black institutions also faced severe difficulties in hiring sufficient numbers of instructors, as potential instructors sought better opportunities in the North and West or in government service, where they could find better pay and working conditions”).
 Id., at 40.
 Sarah Turner and John Bound, “Closing the Gap or Widening the Divide: The Effects of the G.I. Bill and WWII on the Educational Outcomes of Black Americans,” National Bureau of Economic Research (July 2002).
 Mettler, The Only Good thing was the G.I. Bill, supra note 1, at 41; see also Joseph Thompson, “The GI Bill should’ve been race-neutral, politicos made sure it wasn’t,” Military Times (Nov. 9, 2019) (“while white veterans got into college with relative ease, Black service members faced limited options and outright denial in their pursuit for educational advancement”).
 Sarah Turner and John Bound, “Closing the Gap or Widening the Divide: The Effects of the G.I. Bill and WWII on the Educational Outcomes of Black Americans,” National Bureau of Economic Research, at 7 (July 2002).
 Mettler, The Only Good Thing Was the G.I. Bill, supra note 1, at 40-41 (“[A]s the G.I. Bill was implemented, many institutions of higher education in the North and West dismantled their most overt discriminatory barriers”).
 See Colbert King, A White Supremacist Congressman who would Approve of Today’s Anti-refugee Rhetoric, The Washington Post (Nov. 20, 2015) (citing John Howard, Concentration Camps on the Home Front: Japanese Americans in the House of Jim Crow, The University of Chicago Press (2008) (“On the floor of congress, Ranking declared “I’m for catching every Japanese in America, Alaska, and Hawaii now and putting them in concentration camps . . . Damn them! Let’s get rid of them now!”) https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2015/11/20/a-white-supremacist-congressman-who-would-approve-of-todays-anti-refugee-rhetoric/.
 John Howard, Concentration Camps on the Home Front: Japanese Americans in the House of Jim Crow, The University of Chicago Press (2008) (“Rankin policed blood stocks with fervor, again linking interracialism to subversion: ‘One of the most vicious movements that has been instituted by the crack pots, the communists, and the parlor pinks of this country is trying to brow beat the Red Cross into taking the labels off the blood bank . . . so it will not show whether it is Negro blood or white blood. This is one of the schemes of these fellows to mongrelize the nation’ (Rankin later expanded his indictment, railing against either ‘Jap or Negro blood [being] pumped into the veins of white Americans’”); see also Colbert King, A White supremacist congressman who would approve of today’s anti-refugee rhetoric (Nov. 20, 2015) https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2015/11/20/a-white-supremacist-congressman-who-would-approve-of-todays-anti-refugee-rhetoric/.
 Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History, John E. Rankin Political Address 39205 (Oct. 7, 1947) (available at https://da.mdah.ms.gov/vault/projects/OHtranscripts/AU_1009_117289.pdf).
 See Erin Blakemore, “How the GI Bill’s Promise Was Denied to a Million Black WWII Veterans,” History.com (Sept. 30, 2019).
 Mettler, The Only Good thing was the G.I. Bill, supra note 1, at 42 (“Although many African-American veterans found that outside the South, the education and training provisions of the G.I. Bill were administered in a nondiscriminatory fashion, still the job market to which they returned, degrees in hand, remained highly segmented. Often, they encountered the same barriers to advancement that they had faced previously”).
 Blakemore, supra note 39; see also History.com Editors, This Day in History, GI Bill Benefits, History (Nov. 8, 2009).
 See Scott A. Grinder Et. al, Postsecondary Institutions and costs of Attendance in 2017-18; Degrees and Other Awards Conferred, 2016-17; and 12-month Enrollment, 2016, U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, at Table 2 (Nov. 2018) (available at https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018060rev.pdf). See Ariel Gelrud Shiro and Richard V. Reeves, The For-Profit College System is Broken and the Biden Administration Needs to Fix It, The Brookings Institute (Jan. 12, 2021) (“For-profit colleges have a long history of engaging in manipulative behavior to preserve the flow of Title IV funds to their schools while providing poor education…. The average amount borrowed by students in for-profit colleges is nearly $2,000 higher than the amount borrowed in 4-year public schools . . . the average tuition at a for-profit college is over 10,00 higher at a public community college”) (available at https://www.brookings.edu/blog/how-we-rise/2021/01/12/the-for-profit-college-system-is-broken-and-the-biden-administration-needs-to-fix-it/ ); NPR, How For-Profit Colleges Sell ‘Risky Education’ To The Most Vulnerable, Fresh Air (March 27, 2017) (available at https://www.npr.org/2017/03/27/521371034/how-for-profit-colleges-sell-risky-education-to-the-most-vulnerable) (quoting Tressie McMillan, Ph.D. “Though for-profit colleges hold out the promise of a better future, Cottom notes that the credentials they offer tend to be 30 to 40 percent more expensive than the same credentials from a nonprofit institution.”); Emma Kerr, The Real Cost of For-Profit College, U.S. News (Nov. 13, 2019) (“The average price of tuition and fees for first-time, full-time undergraduate students at degree-granting four-year for-profit colleges was $17,000 in 2017-2018, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. For comparison, that’s more than public four-year colleges, which cost $9,000 on average in the same year, and less than that of private nonprofit colleges that were priced at, on average, $34,600 in 2017-2018”) (available at https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/the-real-cost-of-for-profit-colleges); see also The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, For-Profit Colleges Still Failing to Do Right by Its Students, Civil and Human Rights News (May 29, 2012) (“‘Deceptive marketing like this, along with coercive recruiting tactics, push thousands of our troops and veterans to shoddy for-profit colleges that have high prices, low-quality educations, high dropout rates, and overwhelming loan debts for students. Many struggling Americans have had their lives ruined by for-profit colleges, but troops and veterans are a particular target for predatory schools because of loopholes in federal law’”) (available at https://civilrights.org/edfund/resource/for-profit-colleges-still-failing-to-do-right-by-its-students/).
 Mettler, Soldiers to Citizens, supra note 2, at 56.
 Mettler, The Only Good Thing Was the G.I. Bill, supra note 1, at 35 (“Contrary to the assumption that African American had little access to the G.I. Bill, Veterans Administration records verify that, over the first five years of the program, higher proportions of nonwhites used the law’s education and training benefits. By 1950, 49 percent of nonwhite veterans had used the benefits, compared to 43 percent of white veterans”).