President Lyndon B. Johnson's Remarks
at Southwest Texas State College (now Texas State University-San Marcos)
upon Signing the Higher Education Act of 1965
November 8, 1965
Dr. McCrocklin; members of the faculty and the student body; Congressman Pickle; Mr. Kellam, the chairman of the Board of Regents; Dr. Crook; my old friend and conspirator and collaborator and former coworker and cosecretary to Dr. Evans—Tom Nichols; my former superintendent, Dr. Donaho; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen:
In a very few moments, I will put my signature on the Higher Education Act of 1965. The President's signature upon this legislation passed by this Congress will swing open a new door for the young people of America. For them, and for this entire land of ours, it is the most important door that will ever open—the door to education.
And this legislation is the key which unlocks it.
To thousands of young men and women, this act means the path of knowledge is open to all that have the determination to walk it.
It means a way to deeper personal fulfillment, greater personal productivity, and increased personal reward. This bill, which I will make law, is an incentive to stay in school.
It means that a high school senior anywhere in this great land of ours can apply to any college or any university in any of the 50 States and not be turned away because his family is poor.
This bill is only one of more than two dozen education measures enacted by the first session of the 89th Congress. And history will forever record that this session-the first session of the 89th Congress—did more for the wonderful cause of education in America than all the previous 176 regular sessions of Congress did, put together.
I doubt that any future Congress will ever erect a prouder monument for future generations.
Last May, 2,700,000 boys and girls graduated from all the high schools in America—2,700,000. One million, four hundred thousand—about half of them—went on to college. But almost as many—1,300,000—dropped out and never started college.
This bill, which we will shortly make into law, will provide scholarships and loans and work opportunities to 1 million of that 1.3 million that did not get to go on to college. And when you, the first year, with the first bill, take care of 1 million of that 1.3 million through this legislation, we are hopeful that the State and the local governments, and the local employers and the local loan funds, can somehow take care of the other 300,000.
So to thousands of young people education will be available. And it is a truism that education is no longer a luxury. Education in this day and age is a necessity.
Where a family cannot afford that necessity:
And in my judgment, this Nation can never make a wiser or a more profitable investment anywhere.
In the next school year alone, 140,000 young men and women will be enrolled in college who, but for the provisions of this bill, would have never gone past high school. We will reap the rewards of their wiser citizenship and their greater productivity for decades to come.
This bill that I am signing will help our colleges and our universities add grasp to their reach for new knowledge and enlightenment.
From this act will also come a new partnership between campus and community, turning the ivory towers of learning into the allies of a better life in our cities.
It ensures that college and university libraries will no longer be the anemic stepchildren of Federal assistance.
And this act makes major new thrusts in a good many other directions:
I consider the Higher Education Act-with its companion, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which we signed back in the spring of this year—to be the keystones of the great, fabulous 89th Congress.
This Congress did more to uplift education, more to attack disease in this country and around the world, and more to conquer poverty than any other session in all American history, and what more worthy achievements could any person want to have? For it was the Congress that was more true than any other Congress to Thomas Jefferson's belief that: "The care of human life and happiness is the first and only legitimate objective of good Government."
Too many people, for too many years, argued that education and health and human welfare were not the Government's concern.
And while they spoke, our schools fell behind, our sick people went unattended, and our poor fell deeper into despair.
But now, at last, in this year of our Lord, 1965, we have quit talking and started acting. The roots of change and reform are spreading, not just throughout Washington, but throughout every community in every State of this great Nation.
On my way here this morning, I visited the Job Corps Center, and I looked into the faces of boys who all their lives had been denied opportunity because they came from large families and poor families, but who today are now receiving that opportunity.
They are learning how to be mechanics and welders and operators of heavy machinery, and they will have jobs that are some more enduring and more profitable than some of you that go out to lead in our classrooms.
One fellow told me that he had been offered—when he completed his course in underwater welding—more per day than Dr. Donaho paid me per month in 1928. I have seen other signs of progress and new determination.
I have seen it throughout the States of this Nation. I saw it this past week, I am proud to say, in our own great Lone Star State of Texas.
The people of Texas went to the polls and they approved constitutional amendments which leave no doubt that the people of this State want decent treatment for their aged. They want decent treatment for the handicapped and the unfortunate children. They want an education system that fits the needs of the 20th century. And they expect the Federal and the State governments—both of whom are the servants of all the people-to join shoulder to shoulder and work together to get this job done.
I want to make it dear once and for all, here and now, so that all that can see can witness and all who can hear can hear, that the Federal Government—as long as I am President—intends to be a partner and not a boss in meeting our responsibilities to all the people. The Federal Government has neither the wish nor the power to dictate education.
We can point the way.
We can offer help.
We can contribute to providing the necessary and needed tools.
But the final decision, the last responsibility, the ultimate control, must, and will, always rest with the local communities.
Today, then, we embark on a new adventure in learning. And it has a very special meaning to me.
This is a proud moment in my life. I am proud to have a part in the beginning that this bill provides, because here a great deal began for me some 38 years ago on this campus.
It was here in these surroundings that I first understood the deeper meaning of the Bible's promise that: "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free."
Here the seeds were planted from which grew my firm conviction that for the individual, education is the path to achievement and fulfillment; for the Nation, it is a path to a society that is not only free but civilized; and for the world, it is the path to peace—for it is education that places reason over force.
As a student, I lived in a tiny room above Dr. Evans' garage. I lived there 3 years before the business manager knew I occupied those quarters and submitted me a bill. I shaved and I showered in a gymnasium that was down the road. I worked at a dozen different jobs, from sweeping the floors to selling real silk socks. Sometimes I wondered what the next day would bring that could exceed the hardship of the day before.
But with all of that, I was one of the lucky ones—and I knew it even then.
I left this campus to become a teacher under one of the great teachers that I have known. I want him to stand because he did much in my life. Dr. Donaho, please stand.
He came here and looked over my credentials and somehow or other offered me a job at $125 a month to teach a Mexican school at Cotulla when I was a sophomore, and it was necessary that I leave that year to teach.
I shall never forget the faces of the boys and the girls in that little Welhausen Mexican School, and I remember even yet the pain of realizing and knowing then that college was closed to practically every one of those children because they were too poor.
And I think it was then that I made up my mind that this Nation could never rest while the door to knowledge remained closed to any American.
So here, today, back on the campus of my youth, that door is swinging open far wider than it ever did before. The rest is up to you.
The rest is up to the teachers and the citizens and the educational leaders of tomorrow. I want to say this to each of you, finally. You are witnessing a historic moment. You should carry the memory and the meaning of this moment with you throughout your life.
And when you look into the faces of your students and your children and your grandchildren, tell them that you were there when it began. Tell them that a promise has been made to them. Tell them that the leadership of your country believes it is the obligation of your Nation to provide and permit and assist every child born in these borders to receive all the education that he can take.
I looked over some editorials that I wrote when I was editor of the college paper here last night. Some I wasn't too proud of.
But in one I urged our people to know no North or no South, or no East or West, to strive to be no sectionalist, but only an American.
And I pointed out to the 1,357 students then enrolled here at this college what I thought vision required of each of us. Some of that vision has been supplied to this student body that has gone from 1,300 to 5,500.
So, when we leave here this morning, I want you to go back and say to your children and to your grandchildren, and those who come after you and follow you—tell them that we have made a promise to them. Tell them that the truth is here for them to seek. And tell them that we have opened the road and we have pulled the gates down and the way is open, and we expect them to travel it. And when we meet back here again a few years from now, there will be many more than the 1,300 and the 5,500 that will be here seeking and receiving the knowledge that is an absolute necessity if we are to maintain our freedom in a highly competitive world.
All you have to do is look at the morning paper this morning to see the rockets that were paraded down the avenues in the Soviet Union yesterday or the day before, and realize that until we banish ignorance, until we drive disease from our midst, until we win the war on poverty, we cannot expect to continue to be the leaders not only of a great people but the leaders of all civilization.
Thank you very much.
Note: The President spoke at 12:30 p.m. in the Strahan Gymnasium at Southwest Texas State College, San Marcos, Texas. In his opening words he referred to James H. McCrocklin, President of Southwest Texas State College, J. J. Pickle, Representative from Texas, Jesse C. Kellam, Chairman of the State Board of Regents of Texas State Colleges, Dr. W. H. Crook, Regional Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, Dr. C. E. Evans, President of Southwest Texas State College when President Johnson was a student there, Tom W. Nichols, professor of business administration at the college and formerly President Johnson's college journalism instructor, and William T. Donaho, superintendent of Cotulla, Tex., public schools when the President was a teacher there. As enacted, the Higher Education Act of 1965 is Public Law 89-329 (79 Stat. 1219). A summary of the major provisions of the act is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. I, p. 482).