Would it surprise you to learn that at the time of the Revolutionary War, there were only nine colleges in the United States? Compare that to today’s number—more than 4,000—and it is no surprise that your mailbox has been filled with communications from colleges and universities!
From George Washington to Barack Obama, U.S. presidents have been champions for the development and growth of our higher education system. Collectively, our nation’s leaders have navigated America through war and peace, economic depression and prosperity, and division and union—all while striving to ensure that the education of its citizens would not only strengthen the nation as a whole, but also provide a brighter future for each citizen.
Thomas Jefferson, our 3rd president, wrote the Declaration of Independence and founded the University of Virginia. Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president, passed into law the Morrill Land-Grant Act, which provided federal land to each state, to be used for the creation of institutions of higher learning. Andrew Johnson, our 17th president, established the first Department of Education. Woodrow Wilson, our 28th president, was the first to successfully enact a federal aid package for higher education. Franklin D. Roosevelt, our 32nd president, signed into law the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the GI Bill; by 1950, two million veterans had taken advantage of the program.
These are just a few examples of how our nation’s leaders have been committed to developing an educational system that would provide opportunities to enrich and enlighten young people so they could reach their greatest potential. I believe the United States is the greatest country in the world, and that our colleges and universities are second to none. This President’s Day, I hope you will join me in celebrating our country’s leaders—past and present—for their commitment to education. In the words of John F. Kennedy, our 35th president, “Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.”