Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Statement by the President on the 10th Anniversary of the National Defense Education Act.

September 10, 1968

ABOUT 10 years and 1 month ago, I made a speech to my Senate colleagues about a bill we were acting upon.

"History may well record," I told them, "that we saved liberty and saved freedom when we undertook a crash program in the field of education .... I hope this bill is only the forerunner of better things to come."

Today, as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of that law, we may not yet be able to prove that NDEA saved liberty--but surely it has enriched and strengthened the freedom we enjoy. And surely that bill--the first large-scale modern program of Federal aid to education--has proven to be "the forerunner of better things to come."

In 10 short years, this great program has provided three billion Federal dollars at points of critical need in our educational system.

In 10 years, we have awarded 2 1/2 million student loans and 25,000 graduate fellowships.

In 10 years, departments of science, mathematics, languages, and other critical studies have received $500 million--to provide untold numbers of microscopes, textbooks, films, classrooms, and laboratories.

But the real importance of this law lies beyond all that. What gives this law its special place in history is more than dollars and books and classroom equipment.

First, this law--the National Defense Education Act--ended years and years of debate about one controversial question: "Shall the Federal Government, with all its massive resources, get directly involved in aiding American education?" The answer this law gave was a loud "Yes!"--and thus we paved the way for a new era of support for education in America. This law, in fact, helped make possible more than 50 new education laws passed in my administration.

Second, this law has become a special symbol of our Nation's most important purpose: to fulfill the individual--his freedom, his happiness, his promise.

A great deal has happened since President Eisenhower signed this law in early September, 10 years ago.

That year, the space age was in its infancy, and earth satellites were scarcely larger than basketballs. Today, men walk in space, and our knowledge in almost every area is wider and deeper.

Many things which we thought were important 10 years ago no longer concern us; the world changes, and we have changed.

But the central importance of this law remains.

That is why we call it a "landmark"-because it stands out against the landscape. It reminds us, as a people, where we have been; where we are now--and where we are going in our journey toward fulfillment for the individual.

Note: The statement was released in New Orleans, La. The National Defense Education Act (Public Law 85-864, 72 Stat. 1580) was approved by President Eisenhower on September 2, 1958. See "Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1958," Item 243.

Federal aid programs for college students were the subject of a report made to President Johnson on January 2, 1968, by the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare (4 Weekly Comp. Pres. Docs., p. 27). In response to that report the President stated, "These figures reflect a national commitment: that all young people, regardless of financial situation, must have an opportunity for higher education to the limit of their ability and their ambitions."

Lyndon B. Johnson, Statement by the President on the 10th Anniversary of the National Defense Education Act. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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