Smithsonian Marks Creation Of Land-Grant Colleges

Monday, July 9, 2012

In the midst of an all-consuming Civil War that divided the nation 150 years ago, Congress was able to muster the will to pass legislation that would transform higher education.

It was this week in 1862 when President Abraham Lincoln signed a law that would establish a network of land-grant universities. The Morrill Act was meant to expand access to college education so working-class people could have practical studies in agriculture, military tactics, mechanics and classical studies -- expanding higher education beyond the elite Eastern schools.

The law sponsored by Vermont Rep. Justin Morrill gave each state federal land to sell in order to fund the creation of colleges. They would eventually include Cornell University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Maryland, the University of Missouri and many others.

Land-grant schools now enroll 4.6 million students nationwide and command about two-thirds of all federally-funded academic research, amounting to $34 billion annually.

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