Landmark Congressional Laws on Education

By David Carleton | Go to book overview

10
The National Defense Education
Act

September 2, 1958

The National Defense Education Act (NDEA) represented a fundamental change and expansion in the role of the federal government in public education. It passed at the height of the Cold War amid immediate concerns, real or imagined, that the United States was unable to match the scientific and technical advances of the Soviet Union. The act provided comprehensive education assistance: student loans for higher education, fellowships for advanced graduate education, monies for science labs and equipment, monies for foreign-language labs and centers, and monies for research grants, vocational education, and new educational media. The NDEA affected the shape and curriculum of American education at the primary, secondary, and university levels and, in its size and breadth, set the precedent for a whole range of Great Society educational initiatives made by the administration of President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s.

General educational assistance of the type inaugurated by the NDEA had been proposed on many occasions, from the various bills of Congressman George Hoar debated in the late 19th century1 to repeated efforts made by the administration of President Harry Truman. The NDEA passed when all other efforts had failed because it was a bipartisan response to a perceived national-security emergency. The successful Soviet launch of Sputnik I, the first man-made satellite, galvanized growing concerns that U.S. long-term security was threatened by shortcomings in American education. The national-security component fundamentally changed the politics of

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