On July 2, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law what is generally referred to as the Land Grant Act. The first Morrill Act granted each state 30,000 acres of federal land for every senator and representative. Each state was to sell the land and invest the proceeds in an endowment, which would provide support for education. The mission was – and continues to be today – to incorporate the traditions of the liberal arts and sciences with those of the practical, agricultural, military, mechanical, and industrial arts.
The second Morrill Act provided additional federal funding for the original land-grants and also created 17 more land-grants with 17 predominantly black colleges in the southern states. These schools primarily teach agriculture, military tactics, mechanical arts, and home economics.
In 1914 the Smith-Lever Act established the system of cooperative extension services to bring people the benefits of current developments in the field of agriculture, home economics and related subjects. Land-grant institutions came to encompass a program of on-campus instruction, research, and off-campus extension work. In the decades following 1914, several acts were passed expanding the scope and increasing the support of the program. Extension work usually consists of instruction, practical demonstrations, and publications directed to the general public.
A land grant college was originally established to teach agriculture, military tactics, and the mechanic arts as well as classical studies so that members of the working classes could obtain a liberal, practical education. States were able to do this through benefit of the Morrill Acts mentioned above.
A key component of the land-grant system is the agricultural experiment station program created by the Hatch Act of 1887. To disseminate information gleaned from the experiment stations’ research, the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created a Cooperative Extension Service associated with each U.S. land-grant institution. This act authorized ongoing federal support for extension services. States must provide matching funds in order to receive federal money.
The Morrill Act was intended to provide a broad segment of the population with a practical education that had direct relevance to their daily lives. The second Morrill Act established land grant colleges specifically for African Americans. Native American land grant colleges were established in 1994.
One aspect that makes the land grant system unique is that funding involves three sources: local county taxes, Federal dollars, and state dollars. At the state level, state and Federal tax dollars support programs. At the Federal level, there is the United States Department of Agriculture. The USDA provides national leadership for the total effort and is supported by Federal dollars. Across all levels (county, state, and federal) some external dollars from industry, business, and private foundations, also help support programs.
America’s land grant colleges continue to fulfill their promise of openness, accessibility, and service to people. Many of these institutions have joined the ranks of the nation’s most distinguished public research universities. Through the land-grant university heritage, millions of students are able to study every academic discipline. They have been able to explore fields of inquiry far beyond the scope envisioned in the original land-grant mission.
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