In retrospect, the GI Bill, as the 1944 Servicemen’s Readjustment Act is called, was one of the greatest democratizing forces in American history. Delbanco rightly remarks that the bill “brought onto campuses throughout the nation—including the most elite—students whose fathers would have once set foot there only as janitors.” Of 15 million returning veterans, just over half took advantage of the bill’s generous incentives and provisions in order to satisfy their aspirations for self-cultivation and professional advancement. By 1948 veterans counted for nearly 50 percent of all college students, thus fulfilling the promise of the land-grant public university system, mandated by Congress with the Morrill Act in 1862. Thereafter, both university life and American society were transformed by a seemingly irreversible process of democratic inclusion and upward social mobility. Most colleges and universities ceased being bastions of privilege, the exclusive preserve of a moneyed, Protestant elite. For the first time, men and women of diverse social backgrounds were afforded the opportunity to cultivate the knowledge and self-understanding necessary to surmount the oppressive constraints of class, race and gender.

Democracy and Education: On Andrew Delbanco | The Nation. The GI Bill also changed how many disciplines, including my own, were taught. The New Criticism never would have become so dominant had it not been well-suited to large classes of variously-well-prepared students.