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G.I. Bill, 1944

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To help veterans from World War II cope with the difficulties of returning to civilian life, in 1944 Congress passed the “Servicemen's Readjustment Act.” Better known as the G.I. Bill, this program offered subsidies for home purchases, business startup costs, hospitalization, and education. Most people expected that it would be used primarily to provide housing for veterans – President Franklin D. Roosevelt estimated that only a few hundred thousand servicemen would use the laws' education benefit. However, by the fall of 1946, just one year after the war ended, almost a million veterans were enrolled in college classes across the nation. At the University of Illinois, more than 23,000 students hoped to register. This represented an 80 percent increase in enrollment from the previous year and 8,000 more than the Urbana campus could accommodate. A committee examining student admissions reported:

These facts (the anticipated enrollment at Urbana) describe the most serious situation which has ever been faced by the University of Illinois. . . . The problem is not temporary. . . . After the last war the demand for higher education was increased by more than 40 percent. A further increase came after the Great Depression. . . . This is both an emergency and a permanent problem of supreme importance.

State and U of I officials scoured the region for housing for these new students. They found 75 ready-built houses in Indiana and moved these to Illinois, setting them up in nice, neat rows in a field near campus. The University also agreed to build additional classrooms and residence facilities, including installing dormitories in Memorial Stadium. It quickly became clear, however, that even these efforts would not be sufficient. Lawmakers subsequently offered their solutions to the enrollment crisis. State Senator Everett R. Peters proposed legislation to set up a statewide public junior (community) college system which would offer schooling for freshmen and sophomores near their homes (Senate Bill No. 153, 1945). Others, including then State Senator Richard J. Daley, introduced legislation calling for the creation of a new branch of the University in Chicago (Senate Bill No. 388, 1945). Neither bill passed the General Assembly.

 

 
 

The University decided instead to create two temporary campuses that would provide the first two years of training at Galesburg in western Illinois and in Chicago. The curriculum at these campuses was to be based on Urbana lower division work so these schools would not be junior colleges but rather full branches of the U of I. Students could take required courses at one of these campuses before completing their studies in Urbana. At Galesburg, the University took over the wartime Mayo Hospital complex made up of about 120 red brick buildings connected to one another by more than 1¼ miles of covered corridors. It was described as a “college under one roof.” Enrollment at the campus never reached capacity, however, and it was closed after three years. In Chicago, University officials recommended using the city-owned facilities on Navy Pier.

Entrance examinations being held in the “ballroom” on the far eastern end of Navy Pier. Students taking entrance examinations at Navy Pier. UIC photo by Thomas Fehr.  
Below, the wartime Mayo Hospital complex outside Galesburg, Illinois, which the University took over for its Galesburg branch.  UIUC photo. Mayo Hospital complex outside Galesburg, Illinois.
     
 
   
 
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