When millions of American soldiers returned home from World War II, a nation grateful for their service greeted them with the famous GI Bill of Rights – which included grants to allow veterans to attend college. Letters were sent to returning servicemen and women to explain the benefits to which they were entitled, making it clear that they came from a nation that had their backs. Beneficiaries knew from whom the money came, and why. They understood the hopes all Americans had for their future educational attainment and success in life.
The educational provisions of the original GI Bill cost about $14.5 billion over eleven years and served about eight million veterans altogether. Today, through a program called Pell Grants, the United States spends much more, about $25 billion annually, to serve about eight million students from needy families each and every year. Pell Grants are need-based; they go to young people from low-income families that really need help to pay for part of the cost of getting a college education. But in contrast to what happened with GI benefits, America does not clearly tell Pell Grant recipients that we are backing their education and have high hopes for their future attainments and contributions.