“ . . . higher education shall be equally accessible to all”

Access to Higher Education

After World War II, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted to guarantee human rights for every person.  It was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948. Article 26, Section 1 says:

Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.


The U.S. has a long tradition of working to make higher education equally accessible to students regardless of social class, ability/disability, gender, ethnicity, and veteran status.  Throughout the history of the U.S., individuals and institutions have worked to make education equally accessible.  Some of the legislative and legal landmarks along the way of the continuing journey to make higher education equally accessible to all are listed below.

Social Class

The Land Grand College Act (The Morrill Act of 1862) established institutions of higher learning in each state with the express purpose of making education available to students from all social classes.  Several subsequent land-grant acts enlarged and refined this practice.


Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 protect the rights of students with disabilities, including the right to higher education.


Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §1681 was signed into law to prohibit sex discrimination in higher education and in any federally funded program.  The Department of Education makes clear the requirements of Title IX, 34 C.F.R. § 106 and The Title IX common rule of 2000 guides the education programs that are funded by federal agencies other than the Department of Education.


The Second Morrill Act of 1890: Act of August 30, 1890, ch. 841, 26 Stat. 417, 7 U.S.C. 322 et seq.was one legislative effort to widen accessibility to colleges to African American students.

Some case law including Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada and Lucille Bluford v. the University of Missouri and Sipuel v. University of Oklahoma establishes the responsibility of states to make higher education accessible to African American students.

The Navajo Community College Act of 1971 led to the establishment of the first institution of higher education by Indian people for Indian people. The following year The Indian Education Act was passed to improve pre-college education for American Indian students increasing their ability to gain access to higher education.

Veterans’ Status

The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (P.L. 78-346) (The G.I. Bill) provided benefits including education benefits to World War II veterans. Following each subsequent armed conflict a specific bill has been passed to provide benefits, including educational benefits for military veterans. The current G.I. Bill is available in conjunction with federal student aid benefits to help military veterans gain access to higher education and other training.


Works Cited

ED.gov  U.S. Department of Education OCR Office of Civil Rights.  Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities. http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/transition.html

Key Events in Black Higher Education:  JBHE Chronology of Major Landmarks in the Progress of African Americans in Higher Education. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. http://www.jbhe.com/chronology/

Lightcap, B. http://www3.nd.edu/~rbarger/www7/morrill.html  The Morrill Act of 1862.

Smole, D.P. and Loane, S.S. CRS Report for Congress.  A Brief History of Veterans’ Educational Benefits and Their Value. June 2008.   Order Code RL34549. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL34549.pdf

Stahl. W. K.  The U.S. and Native American Education: A Survey of Federal Legislation. Journal of American Indian Education. Volume 18.  Number 3.  May 1979.   http://jaie.asu.edu/v18/V18S3sur.html

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Full Text.  Article 26.  Section 1. http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

The United States Department of Justice.  Civil Rights Division.  Federal Coordination and Compliance.  Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.  http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/cor/coord/titleix.php

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  Veterans Benefits Administration. Education and Training.  History and Timeline.  http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/history.asp

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