National Defense Education Act

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The National Defense Education Act (NDEA), signed into law on September 2, 1958, provided funding to United States education institutions at all levels.[1] The act authorized funding for four years, increasing funding per year: for example, funding increased on eight program titles from 183 million dollars in 1959 to 222 million in 1960.[2] While motivated by the increase in the number of students attending college and a growing national sense that U.S. scientists were falling behind scientists in the Soviet Union, it was arguably catalyzed by early Soviet success in the Space Race, notably the launch of the first-ever satellite, Sputnik, the year before.

However, in the aftermath of McCarthyism, a mandate was inserted in the act that all beneficiaries must complete an affidavit disclaiming belief in the overthrow of the U.S. government. This requisite loyalty statement stirred concern and protest from the American Association of University Professors and over 153 institutions.[3]

Contents

Cause and purpose

The NDEA was influenced by the Soviet launch of the satellite Sputnik on October 4, 1957. The launch shook the American belief that the USA was superior in Math and Science to all other countries. The citizens of the United States feared that schools of the Soviet Union were superior to American schools, and Congress reacted by adding the act to take US schools up to speed.

Additionally, more high school graduates were beginning to attend college. In 1940 about one-half million Americans attended college, which was about 15 percent of their age group.[4] By 1960, however, college enrollments had expanded to 3.6 million. By 1970, 7.5 million students were attending colleges in the U.S., or 40 percent of college-age youths.[5]

The act, therefore, was designed to fulfill two purposes. First, it was designed to provide the country with specific defense oriented personnel. This included providing federal help to foreign language scholars, area studies centers, and engineering students. Second it provided financial assistance—primarily through the National Defense Student Loan program—for thousands of students who would be part of the growing numbers enrolling at colleges and universities in the 1960s.[2]

Controversy

Included in the NDEA—Title X, Section 1001 (f)--is a mandate that all beneficiaries of the act complete an affidavit disclaiming belief in the overthrow of the U.S. government.[1] Some in higher education opposed the disclaimer affidavit, as it came to be called, because they said it attempted to control beliefs and as such violated academic freedom. Initially, small number of institutions (Barnard College, Yale University, Princeton University) refused to accept funding under the student loan program established by the act because of the affidavit requirement.[6] By 1962, when the act was repealed, the number of schools protesting the clause was 153.[3]

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