Land-Grant Universities Research Paper Starter

Land-Grant Universities

(Research Starters)

The land-grant movement not only heralded the departure from a purely liberal arts curriculum but also ushered in a commitment to universal access to American higher education (Brubacher & Rudy, 1997; Kerr, 2001; Parker, Greenbaum, & Pister, 2001; Spanier, 1999). Land-grant institutions were established under the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862. However, the impact of land-grants on national development took many years to be realized as a number of factors (e.g., lack of prepared students and faculty, apathy from the American industrial class) contributed to their slow progress. Today their tripartite mission of instruction, research, and public service is embraced by most colleges and universities across the United States (Johnson, 1981).

Keywords Access; Agricultural Arts; Appropriation; Democratic; Endowment; Experiment Stations; Extension Services; Land-Grant; Mechanical Arts; Morrill Land Grant Act; Research; Service; Teaching

Higher Education: Land Grant Universities


Importance of Land-Grant Universities

Kerr (2001) called the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862, which established the land-grant institutions, "one of the most seminal pieces of legislation ever enacted" (p. 35). In general, the land-grant movement ushered in a transformative period in American higher education (Kerr, 2001). It marshaled in a commitment to universal access to the American higher education system and signified a departure from a purely classical liberal arts curriculum (Brubacher and Rudy, 1997; Kerr, 2001). Specifically, by offering technical and practical education geared toward the industrial class, land-grant institutions were intended to be more democratic institutions than their predecessors (Brubacher & Rudy, 1997). In general, the colleges "stood pre-eminently for the principle, increasingly so important in the twentieth century, that every American citizen is entitled to receive some form of higher education" (Brubacher & Rudy, 1997, p. 64). Other higher education scholars have offered similar remarks on the importance of the land-grant movement and its colleges:

• According to Kerr (2001), the land-grant movement "opened the doors of universities to the children of farmers and workers, as well as of the middle and upper classes" (p. 12).

• Spanier (1999) stated that land-grant colleges "democratized higher learning by making a college education widely available and embracing a pragmatic agenda in teaching, research, and extension" (p. 199).

• Parker, Greenbaum, and Pister (2001) wrote that the Morrill Act of 1862 meant "the opportunity to provide both an unprecedented new level of access to higher education as well as the kind of 'practical' education required to industrialize the nation" (p 2).


Development of Land-Grant Universities

Important pieces of legislation in the land-grant movement include the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862, the Second Morrill Act of 1890, the Hatch Act of 1887, and the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 (Kerr, 2001). The first Morrill Act outlined that at least one land-grant institution, which would offer agricultural and mechanical arts alongside the liberal arts and other scientific studies, was to be established in each state (Geiger, 1999). Under the Morrill Act, each state was given public lands and ten percent of the proceeds of the sales of those lands could be used toward establishing a college or experimental farm lands (Rudolph, 1990). All other proceeds were to be put aside in a perpetual endowment (Rudolph, 1990). A second Morrill Act in 1890 also provided for annual appropriations for the land-grant colleges (Rudolph, 1990). The Hatch Act of 1887 provided for experiment stations (Jones, Oberst, & Lewis, 1990). Meanwhile, the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created the Agricultural Extension Service (Jones et al., 1990; Kerr, 2001). The Hatch Act and the Smith-Lever Act were essential to the livelihood of the land-grant idea because they helped ensure that knowledge from land-grant institutions "could be tested in a real-world setting and effectively transmitted to a public beyond enrolled students" (Jones et al., 1990, p 5). However, these two pieces of legislation only applied to agricultural and not mechanical arts (Jones et al., 1990).

Justin Morrill first introduced the beginnings of the Morrill Act in 1858 in order to promote agriculture, which was seen as key to the nation's prosperity (Duemer, 2007; Key, 1996). However, Morrill's proposal had to wait until the election of Abraham Lincoln and a shift in federal land policy from one of sales to one of donations in order to finally succeed in the summer of 1862 (Key, 1996). In the arguments he made to help secure passage of the act, Morrill mainly focused on the economic benefits that the act would provide to the nation. In sum, he noted that,

The government needed revenue and the best way to produce revenue was to increase prosperity, which could be best accomplished through increased agricultural production. The new colleges would promote agricultural education, which would lead to increased agricultural production, thus increasing national prosperity out of which the needed revenues would flow. (Key, 1996, p. 214)

Granting land for the development of colleges was not something novel to the land-grant colleges (Johnson, 1981). Duemer (2007) stressed that the Morrill Land Grant of 1862 was the continuation of a long-standing practice of supporting educational purposes through land grants. The practice of land grants to support higher education in particular dates back as far as the colonial colleges (Duemer, 2007). Rudolph (1990) noted that state aid was important to the survival of many of the colonial colleges and that state grants of lands to the colleges were among the favorite forms of assistance at that time. Colleges like Dartmouth received grants of lands (Johnson, 1981; Rudolph, 1990). Harvard, Yale, William and Mary, and Michigan were all also recipients of colonial or state land grants (Johnson, 1981).

Institutions focused on agricultural and mechanical arts were also not new to the land-grants. The idea of establishing institutions to advance agricultural education, for instance, dates back as far as the days of George Washington (Duemer, 2007). Also, during the 1850s the efforts of agricultural societies and educational reformers led to the opening of a number of (lower grade) institutional predecessors to the land-grant colleges (Rudolph, 1990). These included the New York State Agricultural College and the Michigan State College of Agriculture at East Lansing (Rudolph, 1990). Yale's Sheffield Scientific School was also chartered before 1860 (Geiger, 1999).

Because the Morrill Act did not specify in what fashion land-grant colleges were to be established, the early colleges took on various forms (Rudolph, 1990). Four states (e.g., Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Iowa) developed preexisting agricultural colleges into land-grant colleges while other states (e.g., Minnesota, North Carolina) looked to their preexisting state colleges to help them fulfill the land-grant mission (Rudolph, 1990). Some states even turned towards preexisting private institutions to help them fulfill the land-grant mission (Rudolph, 1990). Still, other states (e.g., Texas, South Dakota) developed entirely new colleges as their land-grant institutions (Rudolph, 1990).

Demand for the type of education the land-grant colleges nurtured was not high at the outset (Johnson, 1981). Geiger (1999) noted that "enthusiasm among the industrial classes for education in agriculture or the mechanical arts turned out to be sparse" (p. 52). For one, many of the Western states in which these colleges were developed did not have high schools and could thus not produce students ready for a collegiate education (Brubacher & Rudy, 1997; Johnson, 1981). At the same time, there was also a lack of qualified instructors and teaching materials (Brubacher & Rudy, 1997). For instance, the agricultural professor at Dartmouth let his crops of potatoes and beets freeze in the ground while one individual noted that there were only enough textbooks on agriculture to enable a professor to teach for thirty days (Brubacher & Rudy, 1997; Rudolph, 1990). Agricultural education was also a hard sell to American farmers at that time. In general, most American farmers were apathetic or even hostile towards the land-grant colleges during the first twenty years they were in operation (Brubacher & Rudy, 1997). Some farmers groups complained that the colleges were "too theoretical and classical in their curricular offerings and had little to offer the average farmer" (p. 63). Preparatory departments emerged at many land-grants to help solve the student shortage (Johnson, 1981). Institutions also relied on other types of enrollment inducements, such as scholarships and other forms of assistance (Johnson, 1981).

While enthusiasm for agricultural studies was still low, interest in the mechanical arts began to grow in the 1880s and especially accelerated in the 1890s (Geiger, 1999). This may have been due to the national outlook at the time. According to Rudolph (1990), "The threshold of opportunity in America had shifted from the land to the factory; in combining the agricultural with the mechanical, the land-grant colleges were uniting the past and the future, two schemes of life," (p. 258). However,...

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