The G.I. Bill: A Case Study in Behavioral Economics

  • Amanda (Swanson) Goff The George Washington University


In pursuit of public welfare, the federal government supports a range of programs designed to encourage desirable behavior. Though for centuries lawmakers have strived to account for irrational actors and ultimately produce effective policy, behavioral economics has only entered the discussion recently as a means to accomplish these ends. The G.I. Bill provides a unique opportunity to examine behavioral economic principles as they relate to a long-standing, well-developed program. Introduced in 1944, the G.I. Bill provides tuition assistance and other educational benefits to support US military veterans pursuing a postsecondary credential. Benefit usage rates remain high and relatively stable in the decades since the legislation’s enactment, suggesting that educational incentives may serve as powerful motivators for veterans continuing their education. However, low college completion rates amongst veterans that choose to use G.I. Bill benefits limit the program’s true effectiveness. This case illustrates both the benefits and the limitations of applying behavioral economics concepts in policy design, particularly as demands on the G.I. Bill program continue to evolve.

Author Biography

Amanda (Swanson) Goff, The George Washington University

AMANDA SWANSON is a second-year Master of Public Policy candidate focusing on defense policy with a particular emphasis on United States military training doctrine. She is a native of Erie, Colorado and completed her Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics at the University of Kansas in 2014. She currently works as a Research and Analysis Associate at the Professional Services Council (PSC), a trade association representing more than 400 companies across the government contracting industry. In her role, she conducts federal spending analysis on the behalf of both member companies and PSC leadership to support the association’s advocacy efforts. Amanda also works closely with PSC’s Senior Advisor on Research and Defense to explore emerging issues in defense policy and acquisition. Previously, she worked as a consultant with the United States Coast Guard to evaluate the organization’s efforts to combat transnational organized crime networks in the Western Hemisphere.

The author would like to thank the entire Policy Perspectives team, especially Brittany Harris, Carly Gordon, and Professor Elizabeth Rigby for their guidance and insight. She would also like to thank her fiancé, Michael, for his love, patience, and sense of humor throughout her academic pursuits. Lastly, she would like to thank her parents, Joe and Suzanne, her siblings, Ashley and William, and the women of P.E.O. International for their continued support and encouragement.