Our Doors Opened Wide: Syracuse University and the GI Bill, 1945-1950

Welcoming Veterans to Campus

The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 22, provided World War II veterans with federal aid to help transition them back to civilian life, including funds for education, health benefits, and home mortgages. More popularly known as the GI Bill, it primarily sought to reduce the possibility of an economic crisis upon the return of millions of veterans after the war. The number of years of college education provided under the bill depended on the duration of a veteran’s service. This benefit included the provision of tuition, books and supplies, and a stipend. Before the war, the average American could not afford a college education, but the GI Bill made this dream attainable to many veterans.

Syracuse University was well-positioned to welcome veterans under the GI Bill. The University had spent the war working with the federal government to provide training to servicemen and women. Having served on a Presidential committee which proposed legislation like the GI Bill, Chancellor Tolley led the way to opening the University’s doors to veterans.

The University reached out to veterans, and the response was dramatic. Between the 1945-46 and 1948-49 academic years, total enrollment at Syracuse University rose from 5,716 to 19,698.

Because the University recognized that veterans were a different type of student, it worked to accommodate their needs as much as possible. Syracuse offered an accelerated program that turned a four-year college education into two and a half years. The University also accepted those who had not graduated from high school, so long as they passed the entrance exam. Additional support services for veteran students, such as personal and vocational counseling as well as speech and hearing therapy, were also made available.

Photograph of Chancellor William Tolley, circa early 1940s. Syracuse University Portrait Collection, University Archives. Photograph by Keith J. Kennedy.

Cover and first two pages of Syracuse University information bulletin sent to veterans, circa 1944-1945. Syracuse University World War II Collection, University Archives.

Letter from Louis Joseph to “President of Syracuse University,” August 24, 1944. Syracuse University Dean of Men Records, University Archives.

Many veterans wrote to Syracuse University asking for information about eligibility, enrollment and the University’s programs. Louis Joseph poignantly asks in his letter, “What will you do for this World War II veteran?”

Memorandum from Milton Hahn, Director of Psychological Services Center, to Dean Frank Piskor, February 9, 1945. Syracuse University Dean of Men Records, University Archives.

Photograph of Richard C. Fisher (left), the 5,000th veteran processed through Syracuse University under the GI Bill, January 1947. Syracuse University Photograph Collection, University Archives.

Syracuse University enrollment, academic years 1943-1944 through 1951-1952, indicating the spike in student numbers on campus due to the influx of veterans.

Syracuse University Bulletin supplement of tuition rates for the academic year 1948-1949. Syracuse University Admissions Office Records, University Archives.

This supplement to the 1948-1949 Syracuse University Bulletin shows what non-veteran students paid for their education and just how much the GI Bill education was truly worth.