With high schools largely out of the vocational education business, the burden for preparing the workforce of the future has fallen to community colleges and the other two-year training and apprentice programs that would also be free under the president’s plan. This is true even for occupations that have not traditionally required a degree. Auto mechanics need IT training to fix today’s smart cars. Health care technicians require specialized coursework if they have any hopes of advancing. Warehouse workers must be schooled in logistics to meet their just-in-time delivery schedules.

You would think Republicans might get this—and that they might notice that federal support for higher education hasn’t always been a partisan issue. The original GI Bill offered free tuition to servicemen returning from World War II. Passed unanimously under FDR in 1944, the bill was the brainchild of Harry Colmery, a former American Legion commander and former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Colmery and other backers were interested primarily in helping veterans, but they soon saw that the bill was doing much more. It was propelling the postwar economic boom and the dramatic expansion of the American middle class.