Carnegie Pushes a “G.I. Bill” for the Poor

  • Public-Policy Reform
  • 1968

In 1967, the Carnegie Corporation announced formation of the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, headed by Clark Kerr, who had just been fired as president of the University of California for failing to overcome campus unrest. The commission was promised at least five years of funding and the effort ended up running for a full dozen years, with the foundation devoting about $12 million to its work.

Between 1967 and 1979 this initiative churned out 37 policy reports and 137 research and technical reports. The most consequential result was a push for greater federal responsibility for higher education. “One of the most urgent national priorities for higher education,” insisted a 1968 clarion call, “is the removal of financial barriers for all youth.” The recommendations were characterized as a “G.I. bill” for the poor.

Members of Congress duly proposed legislation based on the Carnegie suggestions. Within a few years, the federal government had established an elaborate apparatus of grants and loans for college students. Today, Pell Grants are probably the best-known element of the system. In 2014, nearly 9 million students received about $30 billion in federal Pell Grants.