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The Impact of the Great Depression on Education


The great depression and its impact on education can be viewed from the perspective of decline in the number of students in institutions and the inadequacy in In terms of resources to support education. The great depression was marked by important features that had significant implications on the education system. First of all, it is vital to mention that decision making and policy concerning education were greatly affected by the great depression. Since the great depression had a lot to do with the economy, funding and budgetary allocations towards education were reduced. This impacted negatively on education since construction of more educational institutions and facilities was halted. (Urban & Wagoner 2004)

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The collapse of financial institutions such as banks also had an effect on education in many ways. From the parents or guardians point of view, it was difficult to meet the costs of education in time. With the collapse of some banks people were unable to access their savings. The implication of this is that they could not cater for their tuition fees requirements. As a result of this situation, most people had to leave school because of the unavailability of funds to pay for their tuition requirements. The number of enrolments in educational institutions declined as a result of the great depression in the United States. There were notable disparities between blacks and the whites. The number of whites in educational institutions declined during the great depression. The blacks in terms of numbers were not so much affected. (Fishback 2002),


The characteristics of the economy during that time did not provide an enabling environment for marriages to happen. Most men were not getting married. This affected women but in a positive way as some studies have indicated. Women during the time were observed to be spending more time in school than it had been before. The prospects of marriages dimmed so much during the depression. This is why women were spending more time than ever in school.

Infrastructure to support education was affected negatively by the great depression. A good example has been mentioned by some scholars concerning transaction costs of attending school. The cutting down of transport costs affected the rural schools which ended up not being in a position to provide the required transport to students from their destinations. This means that access to educational facilities became a problem because of lack of transport to the rural students. This problem was noted to be varied between states. States that were densely populated did not have the transportation problem since educational centers were closer to the students. In the sparsely populated states the problem was further since the educational facilities were far apart. (Urban & Wagoner 2004)In terms of educational facilities, it is also important to underscore the fact that economic recession meant that the cost of educational facilities are resources was limited by the available finances. Institutions such as the Junior colleges which were meant to free Universities form the instruction workload were also affected by the great depression. Their growth was interfered with since few of them were publicly funded. The financial resources towards development of these institutions declined. In the case of those that were private funded, the reduced number of students meant that little expansion and development activities occurred.

According to Fishback (2002), the great depression had an impact on individuals in two main ways. First, due to the prevailing economic hardships, students who had to the potential to pursue education higher levels opted to look for employment opportunities. This was mainly driven by the diminishing access to important human wants. With this scenario, theorists have argued that there were many dropouts at high school level as most students dropped out in search for sustenance. Another scenario that was posed by the great depression on individuals concerned the option of seeking refuge in schools as a result of the higher unemployment rates. The high level of unemployment during the great depression lowered the opportunity cost of attending school. This therefore attracted most people who were unable to get sustainable employment.


In conclusion, it is worth mentioning that the great depression affected the economical welfare of the people. Since the economical aspect of life seems to be a determinant to education and other sectors, it means that the great depression had a great impact of people lives economically. The access and choice of education were greatly affected by the great depression. Most people that were in pursuit of higher education, relied on borrowing. Borrowing was constrained by the reduced levels of income and unemployment. The reliance to borrowing made it difficult for people to access education at higher levels since their incomes could not allow them to meet the demands. The great depression affected many people especially those who had attained the age of college training. In general the great depression affected access to and distribution of educational resources to both the black and white communities. This interfered with their educational attainment.


Urban, W. & J. Wagoner. (2004) American Education: A History. Third Edition. U.S.A.: McGraw Hill.

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Fishback, Price V., Haines, Michael R. and Kantor, Shawn. “The Welfare of Children during the Great Depression.” Cambridge, MA: NBER Working Paper No. 8902, 2002.

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