John F. Kennedy photo

Special Message to the Congress on Education.

February 06, 1962

To the Congress of the United States:

No task before our Nation is more important than expanding and improving the educational opportunities of all our people. The concept that every American deserves the opportunity to attain the highest level of education of which he is capable is not new to this Administration--it is a traditional ideal of democracy. But it is time that we moved toward the fulfillment of this ideal with more vigor and less delay.

For education is both the foundation and the unifying force of our democratic way of life--it is the mainspring of our economic and social progress--it is the highest expression of achievement in our society, ennobling and enriching human life. In short, it is at the same time the most profitable investment society can make and the richest reward it can confer.

Today, more than at any other time in our history, we need to develop our intellectual resources to the fullest. But the facts of the matter are that many thousands of our young people are not educated to their maximum capacity--and they are not, therefore, making the maximum contribution of which they are capable to themselves, their families, their communities and the Nation. Their talents lie wasted--their lives are frequently pale and blighted--and their contribution to our economy and culture are lamentably below the levels of their potential skills, knowledge and creative ability. Educational failures breed delinquency, despair and dependence. They increase the costs of unemployment and public welfare. They cut our potential national economic output by billions. They deny the benefits of our society to large segments of our people. They undermine our capability as a Nation to discharge world obligations. All this we cannot afford--better schools we can afford.

To be sure, Americans are still the best-educated and best-trained people in the world. But our educational system has failed to keep pace with the problems and needs of our complex technological society. Too many are illiterate or untrained, and thus either unemployed or under-employed. Too many receive an education diminished in quality in thousands of districts which cannot or do not support modern and adequate facilities, well-paid and well-trained teachers, or even a sufficiently long school year.

Too many--an estimated one million a year--leave school before completing high school--the bare minimum for a fair start in modern-day life. Too many high school graduates with talent--numbering in the hundreds of thousands--fail to go on to college; and 40 percent of those who enter college drop out before graduation. And too few, finally, are going on to the graduate studies that modern society requires in increasing number. The total number of graduates receiving doctorate degrees has increased only about one-third in ten years; in 1960 they numbered less than ten thousand, including only three thousand in mathematics, physical sciences and engineering.

An educational system which is inadequate today will be worse tomorrow, unless we act now to improve it. We must provide facilities for fourteen million more elementary, secondary school and college students by 1970, an increase of 30 percent. College enrollments alone will nearly double, requiring approximately twice as many facilities to serve nearly 7 million students by 1970. We must find the means of financing a 75 percent increase in the total cost of education--another $20 billion a year for expansion and improvement--particularly in facilities and instruction which must be of the highest quality if our nation is to achieve its highest goals.


The control and operation of education in America must remain the responsibility of State and local governments and private institutions. This tradition assures our educational system of the freedom, the diversity and the vitality necessary to serve our free society fully. But the Congress has long recognized the responsibility of the nation as a whole--that additional resources, meaningful encouragement and vigorous leadership must be added to the total effort by the Federal Government if we are to meet the task before us. For education in this country is the right--the necessity--and the responsibility--of all. Its advancement is essential to national objectives and dependent on the greater financial resources available at the national level.

Let us put to rest the unfounded fears that "Federal money means Federal control." From The Northwest Ordinance of 1787, originally conceived by Thomas Jefferson, through the Morrill Act of 1862, establishing the still-important and still-independent Land-Grant College system, to the National Defense Education Act of 1958, the Congress has repeatedly recognized its responsibility to strengthen our educational system without weakening local responsibility. Since the end of the Korean War, Federal funds for constructing and operating schools in districts affected by Federal installations have gone directly to over 5,500 districts without any sign or complaint of interference or dictation from Washington. In the last decade, over $5 billion of Federal funds have been channeled to aid higher education without in any way undermining local administration.

While the coordination of existing Federal programs must he improved, we cannot meanwhile defer action on meeting our current pressing needs. Every year of further delay means a further loss of the opportunity for quality instruction to students who will never get that opportunity back. I therefore renew my urgent request of last year to the Congress for early action on those measures necessary to help this nation achieve the twin goals of education: a new standard of educational excellence--and the availability of such excellence to all who are willing and able to pursue it.



Elementary and secondary schools are the foundation of our educational system. There is little value in our efforts to broaden and improve our higher education, or increase our supply of such skills as science and engineering, without a greater effort for excellence at this basic level of education. With our mobile population and demanding needs, this is not a matter of local or State action alone--this is a national concern.

Since my Message on Education of last year, our crucial needs at this level have intensified and our deficiencies have grown more critical. We cannot afford to lose another year in mounting a national effort to eliminate the shortage of classrooms, to make teachers' salaries competitive, and to lift the quality of instruction.


To meet current needs and accommodate increasing enrollments--increasing by nearly one million elementary and secondary pupils a year in the 1960's--and to provide every child with the opportunity to receive a full day education in an adequate classroom, a total of 600,000 classrooms must be constructed during this decade. The States report an immediate shortage today of more than 127,000 classrooms and a rate of construction which, combined with heavily increasing enrollments, is not likely to fill their needs for ten years. Already over half a million pupils are in curtailed or half-day sessions. Unless the present rate of construction is accelerated and Federal resources made available to supplement state and local resources that are already strained in many areas few families and communities in the Nation will be free from the ill effects of overcrowded or inadequate facilities in our public schools.

Teachers' Salaries

Teachers' salaries, though improving, are still not high enough to attract and retain in this demanding profession all the capable teachers we need. We entrust to our teachers our most valuable possession--our children-for a very large share of their waking hours during the most formative years of their life. We make certain that those to whom we entrust our financial assets are individuals of the highest competence and character--we dare not do less for the trustees of our children's minds.

Yet in no other sector of our national economy do we find such a glaring discrepancy between the importance of one's work to society and the financial reward society offers. Can any able and industrious student, unless unusually motivated, be expected to elect a career that pays more poorly than almost any other craft, trade, or profession? Until this situation can be dramatically improved--unless the States and localities can be assisted and stimulated in bringing about salary levels which will make the teaching profession competitive with other professions which require the same length of training and ability--we cannot hope to succeed in our efforts to improve the quality of our children's instruction and to meet the need for more teachers.

These are problems of national proportion. Last year I sent to the Congress a proposal to meet the urgent needs of the Nation's elementary and secondary schools. A bill (S. 1021) embodying this proposal passed the Senate last year; and similar legislation (H.R. 7300) was favorably reported to the House by its Committee on Education and Labor. It offered the minimum amount required by our needs and--in terms of across-the-board aid--the maximum scope permitted by our Constitution. It is imperative that such a proposal carrying out these objectives be enacted this session. I again urge the Congress to enact legislation providing Federal aid for public elementary and secondary classroom construction and teachers' salaries.

As noted earlier, Federal aid for construction and operation of many public schools has been provided since 1950 to those local school districts in which enrollments are affected by Federal installations. Such burdens which may remain from the impact of Federal activities on local school district., will be eased by my proposal for assistance to all school districts for construction and teachers' salaries, thus permitting modification and continuation of this special assistance program as proposed in last year's bill.

A fundamental overhauling and modernization of our traditional vocational education programs is also increasingly needed. Pursuant to my Message on Education last February, a panel of consultants to the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare is studying national needs in this area. They have been asked to develop recommendations by the close of this year for improving and redirecting the Federal Government's role in this program.

Improvement of Educational Quality

Strengthening financial support for education by general Federal aid will not, however, be sufficient. Specific measures directed at selected problems are also needed to improve the quality of education. And the key to educational quality is the teaching profession. About one out of every 5 of the nearly 1,600,000 teachers in our elementary and secondary schools fails to meet full certification standards for teaching or has not completed four years of college work. Our immediate concern should be to afford them every possible opportunity to improve their professional skills and their command of the subjects they teach.

In all of the principal areas of academic instruction--English, mathematics, physical and biological sciences, foreign languages, history, geography, and the social sciences-significant advances are being made, both in pushing back the frontiers of knowledge and in the methods of transmitting that knowledge. To keep our teachers up-to-date on such advances, special institutes are offered in some of these areas by many colleges and universities, financed in part by the National Science Foundation and the Office of Education. Many elementary and secondary school teachers would profit from a full year of full-time study in their subject-matter fields. Very few can afford to do so. Yet the benefits of such a year could be shared by outstanding teachers with others in their schools and school systems as well as with countless students. We should begin to make such opportunities available to the elementary and secondary school teachers of this country and thereby accord to this profession the support, prestige and recognition it deserves.

Another need is for higher standards of teacher education, course content and instructional methods. The colleges and universities that train our teachers need financial help to examine and further strengthen their programs. Increased research and demonstration efforts must be directed toward improving the learning and teaching of subject-matter and developing new and improved learning aids. Excellent but limited work in educational research and development has been undertaken by projects supported by the National Science Foundation, the Office of Education, and private groups. This must be increased-introducing and demonstrating to far more schools than at present up-to-date educational methods using the newest instructional materials and equipment, and providing the most effective in-service training and staff utilization.

Finally, in many urban as well as rural areas of the country, our school systems are confronted with unusually severe educational problems which require the development of new approaches--the problems of gifted children, deprived children, children with language problems, and children with problems that contribute to the high dropout rate, to name but a few.

To help meet all of these needs for better educational quality and development, and to provide a proper Federal role of assistance and leadership, I recommend that the Congress enact a program designed to help improve the excellence of American education by authorizing:

(1) The award each year of up to 2,500 scholarships to outstanding elementary and secondary school teachers for a year of full-time study;

(2) The establishment of institutes at colleges and universities for elementary and secondary school teachers of those subjects in which improved instruction is needed;

(3) Grants to institutions of higher education to pay part of the cost of special projects designed to strengthen teacher preparation programs through better curricula and teaching methods:

(4) Amendment of the Cooperative Research Act to permit support of extensive, multi-purpose educational research, development, demonstration, and evaluation projects; and

(5) Grants for local public school systems to conduct demonstration or experimental projects of limited duration to improve the quality of instruction or meet special educational problems in elementary and secondary schools.


In the last ten days, both Houses of Congress have recognized the importance of higher education to the fulfillment of our national and international responsibilities. Increasing student enrollments in this decade will place a still greater burden on our institutions of higher education than that imposed on our elementary and secondary schools where the cost of education per student is only a fraction as much. Between 1960 and 1970 it is expected that college enrollments will double, and that our total annual operating expenditures for expanding and improving higher education must increase two and one-half times or by nearly $10 billion.

In order to accommodate this increase in enrollments, the Office of Education estimates that nearly $22 billion of college facilities will have to be built during the 1960's-three times the construction achieved in the last ten years. The extension of the college housing loan program--with a $1.5 billion loan authorization for five years, enacted as part of the Housing Act of 1961--assures Federal support for our colleges' urgent residential needs. I am hopeful that the Congress will this month complete its action on legislation to assist in the building of the even more important and urgently needed academic facilities.

But I want to take this opportunity to stress that buildings alone are not enough. In our democracy every young person should have an equal opportunity to obtain a higher education, regardless of his station in life or financial means. Yet more than 400,000 high school seniors who graduated in the upper half of their classes last June failed to enter college this fall. In this group were 200,000 who ranked in the upper 30 percent of their class, of whom 1/3 to failed to go on to college principally because of a lack of finances. Others lack the necessary guidance, incentive or the opportunity to attend the college of their choice. But whatever the reason, each of these 400,000 students represents an irreplaceable loss to the nation.

Student loans have been helpful to many. But they offer neither incentive nor assistance to those students who, by reason of family or other obligations, are unable or unwilling to go deeper into debt. The average cost of higher education today-up nearly 90 percent since 1950 and still rising--is in excess of $1,750 per year per student, or $7,000 for a four year course. Industrious students can earn a part of this--they or their families can borrow a part of it--but one-half of all American families had incomes below $5,600 in 1960-and they cannot be expected to borrow for example, $4,000 for each talented son or daughter that deserves to go to college. Federal scholarships providing up to $1,000 a year can fill part of this gap. It is, moreover, only prudent economic and social policy for the public to share part of the costs of the long period of higher education for those whose development is essential to our national economic and social well-being. All of us share in the benefits--all should share in the costs.

I recommend that the full five year Assistance to Higher Education proposal before the Congress, including scholarships for more than 200,000 talented and needy students and cost of education payments to their colleges, be enacted without delay.


1. Medical and Dental Education

The health needs of our Nation require a sharp expansion of medical and dental education in the United States. We do not have an adequate supply of physicians and dentists today--we are in fact importing many from abroad where they are urgently needed--and the shortage is growing more acute, as the demand for medical services mounts and our population grows. Even to maintain the present ratio of physicians and dentists to population we must graduate 50 percent more physicians and 90 percent more dentists per year by 1970, requiring not only the expansion of existing schools but the construction of at least 20 new medical schools and 20 new dental schools.

But here again more buildings are not enough. It is an unfortunate and disturbing fact that the high costs of the prolonged education necessary to enter these professions deprives many highly competent young people of an opportunity to serve in these capacities. Over 40 percent of all medical students now come from the 12 percent of our families with incomes of $10,000 or more a year, while only 14 percent of the students come from the 50 percent of the Nation's families with incomes under $5,000. This is unfair and unreasonable. A student's ability--not his parents' income--should determine whether he has the opportunity to enter medicine or dentistry.

I recommend that Congress enact the Health Professions Educational Assistance Act which I proposed last year to (a) authorize a ten-year program of matching grants for the construction of new medical and dental schools and (b) provide four-year scholarships and cost-of-education grants for one-fourth of the entering students in each medical and dental school in the United States.

2. Scientists and Engineers

Our economic, scientific and military strength increasingly requires that we have sufficient numbers of scientists and engineers to cope with the fast-changing needs of our time--and the agency with general responsibility for increasing this supply today is the National Science Foundation. At the elementary and secondary school level, I have recommended in the 1963 Budget an expansion of the Science Foundation program to develop new instructional materials and laboratory apparatus for use in a larger number of secondary schools and to include additional subjects and age groups; an expansion of the experimental summer program permitting gifted high school students to work with university research scientists; and an expansion in the number of National Science Foundation supported institutes offering special training in science and mathematics for high school teachers throughout the country. The budget increase requested for this latter program would permit approximately 36,000 high school teachers, representing about 30 percent of the secondary school teachers of science and mathematics in this country, to participate in the program.

At the higher education level, I am recommending similar budget increases for institute programs for college teachers; improvement in the content of college science, mathematics and engineering courses; funds for laboratory demonstration apparatus; student research programs; additional top level graduate fellowships in science, mathematics and engineering; and $61.5 million in grants to our colleges and universities for basic research facilities.

3. Reduction of Adult Illiteracy

Adult education must be pursued aggressively. Over eight million American citizens aged 25 or above have attended school for less than five years, and more than a third of these completely lack the ability to read and write. The economic result of this lack of schooling is often chronic unemployment, dependency or delinquency, with all the consequences this entails for these individuals, their families, their communities and the Nation. The twin tragedies of illiteracy and dependency are often passed on from generation to generation.

There is no need for this. Many nations-- including our own--have shown that this problem can be attacked and virtually wiped out. Unfortunately, our State school systems--overburdened in recent years by the increasing demands of growing populations and the increasing handicaps of insufficient revenues--have been unable to give adequate attention to this problem. I recommend the authorization of a five-year program of grants to institutions of higher learning and to the States, to be coordinated in the development of programs which will offer every adult who is willing and able the opportunity to become literate.

4. Education of Migrant Workers

The neglected educational needs of America's one million migrant agricultural workers and their families constitute one of the gravest reproaches to our Nation. The interstate and seasonal movement of migrants imposes severe burdens on those school districts which have the responsibility for providing education to those who live there temporarily. I recommend authorization of a five year Federal-State program to aid States and school districts in improving the educational opportunities of migrant workers and their children.

5. Educational Television

The use of television for educational purposes-particularly for adult education-offers great potentialities. The Federal Government has sought to further this through the reservation of 270 television channels for education by the Federal Communications Commission and through the provision of research and advisory services by the Office of Education. Unfortunately, the rate of construction of new broadcasting facilities has been discouraging. Only 80 educational TV channels have been assigned in the last decade. It is apparent that further Federal stimulus and leadership are essential if the vast educational potential of this medium is to be realized. Last year an educational television bill passed the Senate, and a similar proposal was favorably reported to the House. I urge the Congress to take prompt and final action to provide matching financial grants to the states to aid in the construction of state or other nonprofit educational television stations.

6. Aid to Handicapped Children

Another long-standing national concern has been the provision of specially trained teachers to meet the educational needs of children afflicted with physical and mental disabilities. The existing program providing Federal assistance to higher education institutions and to State education agencies for training teachers and supervisory personnel for mentally retarded children was supplemented last year to provide temporarily for training teachers of the deaf. I recommend broadening the basic program to include assistance for the special training needed to help all our children afflicted with the entire range of physical and mental handicaps.

7. Federal Aid to the Arts

Our Nation has a rich and diverse cultural heritage. We are justly proud of the vitality, the creativity and the variety of the contemporary contributions our citizens can offer to the world of the arts. If we are to be among the leaders of the world in every sense of the word this sector of our national life cannot be neglected or treated with indifference. Yet, almost alone among the governments of the world, our government has displayed little interest in fostering cultural development. Just as the Federal Government has not, should not, and will not undertake to control the subject matter taught in local schools, so its efforts should be confined to broad encouragement of the arts. While this area is too new for hasty action, the proper contributions that should and can be made to the advancement of the arts by the Federal Government--many of them outlined by the Secretary of Labor in his decision settling the Metropolitan Opera labor dispute--deserve thorough and sympathetic consideration. A bill (H.R. 4172) already reported out to the House would make this possible and I urge approval of such a measure establishing a Federal Advisory Council on the Arts to undertake these studies.


The problems to which these proposals are addressed would require solution whether or not we were confronted with a massive threat to freedom. The existence of that threat lends urgency to their solution-to the accomplishment of those objectives which, in any case, would be necessary for the realization of our highest hopes and those of our children. "If a nation," wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1816, "expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." That statement is even truer today than it was 146 years ago.

The education of our people is a national investment. It yields tangible returns in economic growth, an improved citizenry and higher standards of living. But even more importantly, free men and women value education as a personal experience and opportunity-as a basic benefit of a free and democratic civilization. It is our responsibility to do whatever needs to be done to make this opportunity available to all and to make it of the highest possible quality.


John F. Kennedy, Special Message to the Congress on Education. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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