Higher Education Act
As one of the defining achievements of Johnson’s presidency, the Higher Education Act made postsecondary education a real possibility for all Americans. The $2.6 billion HEA enabled hundreds of thousands of young Americans to enroll in college, thanks to federal scholarships and loans. Beyond providing financial assistance to students in need, the HEA also aimed to expand libraries’ resources nationwide, improve the level of education in elementary and secondary schools, support community service programs, and fund higher education institutions’ investment in their facilities, faculty, and resources given to students.
Arrival in San Marcos
On November 8, 1965, his first public appearance since having kidney-stone and gallbladder surgery a month earlier, Johnson traveled to San Marcos to sign the act. Prior to arriving at SWTSC, Johnson visited Camp Gary, the inaugural site of the Job Corps program, which was created as part of Johnson’s Great Society. One thousand corpsmen welcomed the president, who toured the camp and observed its corpsmen’s training in operating heavy equipment and welding.
Change of Plans
Johnson then traveled to SWTSC by motorcade and met with a number of faculty and students at Old Main, where he was greeted by the college band playing the “Lyndon Baines Johnson March.” Johnson was also presented with a gold record of the band’s rendition of the march.
The ceremony was planned to take place on the campus’s quadrangle, where attendees would be surrounded by buildings that existed during Johnson’s time as a student. Unfortunately, rainy weather forced the ceremonies to relocate to inside Strahan Gym. There the festivities continued, with a number of speeches and Johnson’s remarks upon signing the act.
“Here the seeds were planted from which grew my firm conviction that for the individual, education is the path to achievement and fulfillment; and for the nation, it is the 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.”
Signing the Act
As part of his speech, Johnson emphasized SWTSC’s importance in his life and in providing him excellent educational opportunities. In a fitting tribute to the importance of his college experience, Johnson signed the landmark bill on the same desk he used when he worked for Dr. C.E. Evans. After the ceremony, Johnson distributed pens to distinguished guests and students, which included: Tom Nichols, one of Johnson’s first teachers in college; President McCrocklin; Congressman J.J. Pickle; and leaders of the Student Body, Senate, Court and TSEA.
The HEA marked the second piece of education legislation that Johnson brought to Texas to sign. In April 1965, Johnson realized an act geared towards improving elementary and secondary education, signing it at the one-room schoolhouse he attended as a child.