Rural School San Augustine County, TexasAs in other areas of society, everything changed in education during and after the war. People stayed in school longer. Especially for vets and rural students, college became more important, and more were able to attend. In agriculture, the research that land grant universities conducted became critical to the advancement of farming. Training future farmers gained momentum. And rural schools began the painful process of consolidation.

Before the war. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1940, only about half of the people in the U.S. had completed at least eight years of school. But rural areas lagged behind urban areas in educational attainment. In 1940 –

  • urban residents had a median of 8.7 years of school completed;
  • rural-nonfarm (that is, small town) residents had a median of 8.4 years of school;
  • rural-farm residents had a median of 7.7 years of school – one full grade less education than urban folks.

The differences were even more striking when you look at the statistics for college.

  • In urban areas, 5.7 percent of the residents had college degrees;
  • In rural-nonfarm areas, the percentage of college graduates drops to 4.2 percent;
  • In rural-farm areas, only 1.3 percent of the residents had a college degree in 1940.
    [Source: U.S. Census, 1940]

After the war education became more important in rural communities as well as urban ones. For one thing, the millions of soldiers – known as GIs, for “government issue” – had a chance to go to college on the government’s dole. The GI Bill provided tuition and living assistance. Many took advantage of the law.

Because of severe labor shortages during the war, farmers had turned to technology to get the crops planted and harvested. To keep the boom in technology going, farmers turned to the ag research facilities at the nation’s land grant colleges. Researchers responded with advancements in crops, fertilizers, machines and management practices.

Finally, rural schools in Nebraska began to realize that they could not all survive in the face of shrinking populations. The political process of consolidating small school districts began.

The educational revolution that began in the 1940s has continued until today. Again, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Nebraska now boasts that 86.6 percent of the population have graduated from high school – higher than the national average of 80.4 percent. Almost a quarter of the state’s residents also have a college degree and 7.3 percent hold an advanced degree.

Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. A partial bibliography of sources is here.

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