Lessons from the Cold War

Military Service and College Education

Published in: Sociology of Education, v. 78, July 2005, p. 250-266

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2004

by Alair MacLean

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Since World War II, the federal government has provided funds to pay for the education of veterans through the GI bill. Yet, these funds were unavailable from 1955 to 1965. This article considers four potentially overlapping hypotheses to describe the effect of military service on veterans' educational attainment in the absence of government funding. Military service may have (1) reproduced civilian status defined by social background, (2) reflected the process of selection on the basis of individual characteristics, (3) changed men's educational trajectories by providing a positive turning point, or (4) disrupted the educational portion of the transition to adulthood. The results indicate that veterans who were drafted were less likely than were nonveterans and veterans who were not drafted to go on to college, which is consistent with the disruption hypothesis, and that military service diverted academically ambitious men from their plans for higher education. Thus, military service disrupted some men's educational trajectories, but may also be described as a turning point with negative, rather than positive, consequences for the pursuit of higher education.

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