We Need A New Version Of The GI Bill

Among the multiple newsletters I receive is one called The Signal. It recently had a thought-provoking report on a growing gender divide among young Americans.

Apparently, over the past few years, young women have become more liberal than young men. Forty-four percent of women aged 18 to 29 consider themselves “liberal,” compared to only 25 percent of men in the same age range—a major change from 30 percent of young women and 27 percent of young men considering themselves liberal a decade earlier.

The article attributed the increase in progressive politics to a series of trends: fewer women in that age bracket are married than was previously the case;  more are educated and religiously unaffiliated, and they “spent formative adult years during the presidency of Donald Trump, whom a strikingly high ratio of them disliked.”

The bulk of the article was an interview with the researcher, and his observations (and their implications) were all interesting, but what struck me was the following.

Politically, climate change is important to Get Z. Gun policy is important. LGBTQ issues are important. I expect abortion to become tremendously important. Yet there isn’t one preeminent, animating political issue for this generation. What’s happened instead is that political identity has become increasingly central to people in defining who they are. It’s become a stand-in for character or even personality. That’s unfortunate in some ways. It leads Americans to be more politically segregated and to shut down political conversations based on the belief that knowing someone’s politics means you know what you need to about their whole life story and whether they’re part of your good tribe or not. We’re on track to become even more politically segregated—more politically polarized—and I believe the decline of institutions and the unraveling of our civic life are playing important roles in that process.

That analysis leads to the question “What can we do to ameliorate this political segregation?”

How about a requirement for national service, an updated version of the wildly successful GI Bill?

Here’s my proposal: upon graduation from high school, students would enroll in a one or two-year program of civic service. Upon satisfactory completion of that service, the government would pay for two years of college at a state university or trade school. The program would be open to everyone, but marketed heavily to the poor and disadvantaged.

Civic service would require young people from disparate walks of life and different political “bubbles” to work together. Service performed for local government and vetted nonprofit organizations would also focus their attention on the common good–a concept missing from the worldviews of far too many Americans, young and old.

We have massive amounts of research confirming that most Americans—rich or poor—know embarrassingly little about the economic and governmental structures within which they live. This civics deficit is more pronounced in poor communities, where civics instruction (as with other educational resources) is scarce. Because civic knowledge is a predictor of civic participation, one result is that poor folks don’t vote in percentages equal to those of middle-class and wealthy Americans. That disparity is especially pronounced among the young.

Poverty is a reliable predictor of low political participation and efficacy. Giving students from disadvantaged backgrounds an affordable opportunity to go to college or trade school—an opportunity they may not have otherwise—and conditioning that opportunity on a year or two of civic service—would do three extremely important things: it would give those students the civic skills they need in order to have a meaningful voice in the democratic process; it would reduce the nation’s currently unconscionable level of student loan debt; and it would cut across the “political segregation” that is turning Americans who disagree with each other into enemies who cannot communicate with each other.

As we’ve seen in the current discussion of Biden’s debt forgiveness program, the need to borrow money in order to afford college keeps many young people from getting the education they need. It keeps others from taking lower-paying jobs with nonprofits and humanitarian organizations after they graduate. The massive level of student loan debt is also a substantial drag on the economy, because payment on those loans prevents large numbers of  graduates from setting up households, buying homes and appliances and even starting families–all activities that keep the economy humming.

As with so many other aspects of contemporary American life, the burdens fall most heavily on those who can least afford them.

A new version of the GI Bill along these lines would require young Americans to meet and work alongside people from outside their “bubbles;” enable informed civic participation, and begin the task of permanently reducing our horrific levels of student loan debt.

It would be a win-win-win…..


  1. I love the concept; however “ Service performed for local government and vetted nonprofit organizations would also focus their attention on the common good–a concept missing from the worldviews of far too many Americans, young and old.”
    It’s a concept missing from many local governments also. I think it would be damned near impossible to find qualifying posts in much of Indiana, for example.

  2. It’s also very important for our wealthiest young people to learn about civic service and about fellow young people from other economic, racial, religious, ethnic, and geodemographic groups.

  3. I always thought the GI Bill was for those who had completed their Armed Service. Past tense. Whereas National Service would be similar to the Draft in wartime. Upon successful completion of which would make the participant eligible for a similarly structured GI Bill. What’s laid out is a bit of apples and oranges.

    Also, not sure what you describe would be an appropriate approach to resolve political differences? When I was in the service we didn’t talk politics.

    btw, the link to the VA is busted.

  4. A lot of these civil service type programs are run by churches. Would a young person working overseas as part of a church effort to ameliorate the effects of poverty be able to count that service? I think you’re going to very quickly get into the claim that government money is going to religious organizations. If you try to exclude religious organizations from the program, it won’t pass Congress.

  5. I have advocated this for years. As a recipient of the Vietnam GI Bill it made going to college possible. Due to my time in combat I earned 45 months (5 school years) of benefits putting me almost all the way through my MEd. I then was granted a fellowship to help with my doctorate. Without that AS then BS and half of my Masters I would never made it to my doc.

  6. A very good idea.
    Not unlike the Peace Corp, but instead of young people working overseas in order to become familiar with people from other cultures they would work in this country in order to become familiar with Americans from other cultures. It would give life and work experience to high school graduates, a small living wage to get started, and the appeal of higher education and student debt relief.

  7. I could imagine your idea if actualized helping or not helping – unclear whether it would be effective. I would note – that (not surprisingly) more women, than men are incensed by the Dobbs Decision – and are actively working towards major change in this area.

    I have been a part of at least a dozen anti-racism trainings, most for white people. Always the cis-gendered (at least) split is about 65-80% female and among the males, a disproportionate percentage are gay men.

    We, men, tend to focus our attention upon things that are “right in front of our noses”. Children matter when we are about to become parents and are parents, but matter little prior to then. Aging issues matter (only) when we have an aging parent, or get old ourselves.

    Females – both are socialized to look more holistically at life – as well as having bodily “reminders” – like menstruation and pregnancy. Also – women can deny the realities of rape and sexual harassment – at their own peril.

    During the AIDS Epidemic – “we” – het/men – didn’t seemingly care about “our gay brothers” – and volunteer in AIDS support work in more than token numbers. Lesbians – who had little need for AIDS treatments – related to their “gay brothers”. Het women – were there (also).

    IF – we have what you are suggesting – are we (particularly white) men – going to “reach beyond” – and stretch our “mandatory voluntary” work – into areas that expand our visions and even “take risks” – or are we going to find the “safe” areas – as we do so commonly already do in our lives.

    I’m not convinced things will be as bad as they seem to be, however I note in general it is those who “lack privilege” – who tend to “get it” and do “the work” – and those of us with privilege who – spend our time – Blaming and Making Excuses – because we “don’t have to do the work”.

    Black women – elected Joe Biden! Black Women – were the heart of the Civil Rights Movement’s real – deep work. Palestinian women – are the heart of the Palestinian cause.

  8. I believe national service was a proposal in one of the economic packages struck down by your moderate democrats because of the cost. It was expanding the Americorp program, I believe. Manchin and Sinema’s names were all over, killing it.

    They’ve given hundreds of billions to the Pentagon for overpriced weapons, which are finding their way on the black market in Ukraine, or Russian soldiers pick them up in the fields where Ukrainian recruits abandon them and run. There are videos and photos all over Telegram. Who sends a military into a war with NO air support?

    If anyone wants to know the skinny on the economic game behind Ukraine and the need for massive USA political restructuring, read Michael Hudson’s article. He’s a genius:


  9. Too Hitleresque; a reminder of Hitler’s Youth Party. A program of civil service “…marketed heavily to the poor and disadvantaged.”, who are primary among school dropouts, would benefit those who completed high school education and would continue to be the financial responsibility of parents to serve. The financial disparity in this country would continue as the “haves” would serve and the “have nots” would possibly increase in number to avoid serving the government for higher education in a university approved by the government.

    “Civic service would require young people from disparate walks of life and different political “bubbles” to work together.” Those disparate political “bubbles” are the divisive foundation of political parties today between Trump’s White Nationalism and the Democratic democracy party. ‘Round and ’round it goes, and where it stops nobody knows. Paul K. Ogden added government money going into religious organizations would not pass Congress; forgetting the voucher system with government money going into religious based schools has already been passed by state Congressional levels…with Indiana “the leader of the pack”.

    Just my view looking through the weeds down here at my grassroots level as our current government is unable to protect itself, the nation and Americans from sedition and treason within its current body of government. We watch daily as Trump’s “Big Lie” has been lowered to second place during these mid-term elections as the “Bigger Lie” is that Trump and his allies ARE above all laws which rule the rest of us.

  10. I like the idea despite the obstacles so ably pointed out by my fellow bloggers here. It is long past time something needs to change in our society in order to bring about a common unity in order to solve the existential problems we face.

  11. Before Reagan, I was going to move to CA to go to university because it was free there. I could work part-time and go to college. But No! We can’t have free college! That’s socialism! 40 years later and here we are. Let’s go back in time, before “conservatives” removed the financing of education nationwide. We know there is money in the budget for it since we aren’t at war in Iraq and Afghanistan and yet the Pentagon got a bigger slice again this cycle. Listen, the internet has provided so much information to anyone with the good sense to use google to see where we used to be – leaders of the free world – but now we’re nothing but a Sh*thole country. Thanks for nothing conservatives. It is All your fault. You stole education from every citizen and replaced it with debt and misery. You stole unions too. We need to shut them down before they steal our democracy.

    Sorry, what were you saying?

  12. Sheila … a very positive, constructive introduction of an idea tested during turbulent times of the 60’s: Neighborhood Youth Corps; College Work-Study; Peace Corps and VISTA. The ideas have been tested and documented with volumes of archival evaluations and outcomes. Vet the pluses and minuses and adapt to current needs and wealth of opportunities. Requires political will and vision along with the trust and support of local citizens. If you are looking for things wrong, it was my experience you could find many. If you looked for things right, the remarkable achievements were many. It was my privilege to witness the virtues of all four initiatives at home and abroad.

    For these initiatives to contribute to the current and future aspirations of communities engaged, it would require a visionary centrist platform open to a number of strong civic strategies inspired by a learning culture and adaptive leadership that can connect with energized empowered youth.

  13. First I think mandatory public service is form of slavery. Not as all encompassing but still forced labor. Next issue is who decides what “public service” is. The current court seems to think we are a Christian nation. Am i going to be drafted into fixing churches or teaching in Evangelical schools? Who would be surprised if our government currently controlled by plutocrats decided that public service means working for Koch Enterprises or Mr. Pillow man. A voluntary program sounds OK (maybe?) but forced labor is a really slippery slope

  14. Let’s say that a year of civic service between high school and college or trade school is a great idea. The next question is implementing it. How do you get a country to agree on anything given that everything contains both good and bad that are different for almost every individual?

    This is where we find ourselves in human history.

    At one time in our evolution, many decisions could be and had to be, made individually. Of course, there was always family, then came tribes and communities, then nations and now we are a single connected organism overcrowding the only planet that we know of that welcomes life.

    We’ve become collectively what we are individually, which is a collection of trillions of individual cells, each a part of an organ arranged in a collection contained in a skin that functions individually to perform each unique job when signaled by other cells in other organs. As long as we each do our job we get nourished and protected from harm and function in the big world as we must to collectively flourish.

    We are starting to understand how we work inside our skin but it seems like we cannot figure out how humans as a species can function collectively under the conditions that we’ve created. We have created a species in which separate organs fight each other rather than support each other.

    We have a form of species cancer. Can we cure that? If not, and that seems most likely, nature has her ways to cure earth from us. She may be doing that right now and we are inadvertently helping her by the fact of our relocation of fossil fuel matter from underground to in the sky.

    We worry about what’s next for humans but the real question should be what’s next for life on earth.

  15. Wow! Slavery, religious indoctrination? Personally, I like the idea of a public service requirement for every high school graduate AND drop out. Most people do what they do (go to college or get a job) based on their needs. With two years to consider what’s next, more young people might just make better choices. I believe we already have the basics in place with the Peace Corp and Americorp. Don’t give money to religious NGOs, but do expand Americorp to include care and management of public spaces, development of inner city projects to repair housing an create neighborhood gardens, and rural programs to improve small things like access to wi-fi and how to use it. I’m going to stop before I end up solving every problem we have.

  16. Love the idealism, but…let’s see, those who think vaccine mandates which save others’ lives are an encroachment on their “freedom” will buy (and pay for with their tax dollars) this…

    Professor, did you smoke something new over the holiday weekend? 🙂

  17. I agree with the essence of Jeffery’s position opposed to mandatory public service. I do believe in options for young adults. (1) Apply for a MOS (military occupational specialty) for two years service; or (2) apply for civil service in a chosen field serving in a targeted community; and receive grant for two years college in similar field; (3) serve and learn for four years supervised field working part time plus full credit load enrolled at institution of higher education. Mantra is servant-leadership with robust training curriculum. Think positive and constructive. Be careful what you “wish for” in projecting a negative rant. It just reveals where you are with your current life. Youth need positive constructive evidence-based encouragement.

  18. open the doors,and find the work. dont allow private orgs to gain a foot of profit. shuffle the masses to other places, and offer a course for how the goverment works,prior to magas. in NoDak,the 4 walls built around it is testament of how, the world works. closed minds and society. the news is generic,one sided most of the time,and depression era hoarding. (everything,even the mind) ive joined with many here to listen to where their world is set, those who went to education outside of NoDak,few ever come back. diversity is near zero, though,climate change has gained this some diverse traction here in white bread NoDak. ive traveled and walked in parts of the country that few would walk in after dark, feeling at home,and able to converse with most anyone. 44 years of driving truck around the country 5 million logged miles, lived east and west coast,now in middle red cell maga world. talking with the majority here,few if any,ever ventured past their own little world or understand the other worlds. (or want to understand)ive seen what side by side labor can achive,when its focused on the results,for all..the biggest question isnt thought of, seems when such programs exist, no one has a clue they do. local community mentors would be the big plus. many who lived thru the burgs i have, never knew programs existed, or how to ask.. educate in public schools the need for this,make a starting ground for getting out of less desirable places. hopefully a better citizen will help one other to understand why we need a real America again…

  19. Post compulsory education should be the provenance of the privileged. We need a permanent underclass. If such a class doesn’t exist,who will fight our wars? Whom will business have to exploit? Who would we have to blame? Who would we have to look down and sneer upon? Whom can we scold?

    The country needs an educated citizenry to serve our oligarchs. Our oligarchs have our best interests at heart. They have done us proud and will continue to do so as long as we support the environs and institutions that sustain them. Voting matters. I know I always vote in order to keep the status quo. I believe in diversity. Unless it causes my property value to decrease. At least I’m honest,but I digress.

    No.No. No. Education must be geared toward only the affluent. To do otherwise would be to diminish the earning power of administrators,athletic directors and professors. This is not a time to create schisms amongst ourselves,we need unity and to continue our suburban conformity in the effort to fulfill our manifest destiny. As Americans,we really are exceptional. As Democrats,we really are of superior stock.

    WADR to Todd. Any criticism of Manchin and Sinema is an attempt to vilify Democrats. You have got to stop that, Bro. Are you a Russian agent?

  20. Well, Dr. Stan, It sure looks like all that taxpayer/government sponsored education is really being put to good use HERE to help solve our myriad problems. So much for that investment… Oh, my MOS between 1986 -71 was 91A. Remember?

    The public service idea is NOT new. The FDR programs and the Marshall Plan for rebuilding post-war Europe and Japan are still viable solutions. The CCC, for example, took illiterate and semi-literate young men (mostly) off the streets and taught them the usable skills they’d need to (1) Build infrastructure and (2)Advance to a trade school, or (3) Decide they were college material and went to higher education.

    We have plenty of those individuals in ALL our cities and towns who could use that sort of OJT. Voluntary civil service only works if there is a built-in incentive. Many privileged and under-privileged young people are simply too lazy or feel too entitled to care if the only reward is a free education. To be pragmatic, the civil service will only work if it is mandatory – like the draft.

    Of course, if our “liberal” people went full socialist, we could do what real civilized nations do: Free education for as long as you need it, and universal health care so individual health and debt are greatly reduced, thus paying for the services. DUH!

    But not here. If a profit can’t be made on doing the right thing by the people, it simply isn’t considered. THAT is what corruption of government looks like. Karl Marx was right about unregulated capitalism. It will destroy itself. And here we are doing just that.

  21. Your idea sounds good at first read, though a bit utopian, and then there are the issues that others have raised here, today.
    If we can vote in enough new Dems, to make Manchin and Sinema irrelevant, even if either, or both switch parties (a concern
    that I’m sure has weighted on Schumer’s mind) the Dems might be able to encourage, or reintroduce, some form of free
    college. (More utopia?)

  22. Jack Smith for President!

    …”the decline of institutions and the unraveling of our civic life are playing important roles in that process.”
    I think it’s the opposite.
    Internet>>Social media>>Bubbles>>Conflict.

  23. Sheila – a good idea, but I tend, again, to agree with Vernon. I think that the real way to handle this is two years of mandatory service (It’s called ‘paying your dues’ for living in a free nation, Jeffry).

    Saying this, Paul may be pointing to political reality in suggesting that doing this the right way (no money to the churches) would be a hard political sell in this day and age. But then again, I met, and admired, those idealistic academics in Ann Arbor who pushed to create the Center for Conflict Resolution and pushed the idea of a Peace Corps on candidate John Kennedy.

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