What is a Land Grant Institution?
In 1861 Congress passed the Morrill Act that created a system of colleges and universities within the United States that would focus on agriculture, mechanical arts and military tactics in addition to the more traditional classical or scientific disciplines. The purpose was not to train more farmers or mechanics but to promote the "liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life."
This far-sighted legislation recognized the importance of agriculture to the economy of the U.S. and ensured a stable, ongoing mechanism was in place to educate future generations.
From this modest beginning, the federal government has significantly expanded the original focus of land-grant institutions. Realizing that research was as important as training, Congress enacted the Hatch Act in 1887. This legislation provided funds to establish an agricultural experiment station within each land-grant institution. The experiment stations' mission was to conduct research of practical concern to U.S. citizens.
In 1890, Congress passed the Second Morrill Act that supplemented the land-grant income. In order to receive funding, a state had to show that race or color was not an admissions criterion, or it would have to designate a separate land-grant college for blacks. A group of institutions known as the "1890 landgrants" was developed in the then-segregated south.
In 1914, Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act that established the Cooperative Extension Service to extend the knowledge and benefits of land-grant research on agriculture, home economics and related subjects to the people.
The land-grant system continued to expand and now includes institutes in other U.S. jurisdictions, such as Guam, American Somoa and the Virgin Islands. The latest expansion occurred in 1994 when 29 tribal colleges that comprise the American Indian Higher Education Consortium were granted land-grant status.
The Horizon Broadens
The original intent of providing a program of education to the agricultural and industrial classes has evolved to include on-campus instruction, research and off-campus extension. Through legislation and amendments, the land-grant institutions and the Agricultural Experiment Station continue to evolve. Responding to changing social conditions, urban and consumer interests, and the increasing interdependence of urban, rural and global communities relative to the quality of life, the scope of the land-grant institution also has expanded beyond the agriculture and mechanical arts to include the environmental, natural and human resource sciences.
The visionary partnership proposed by the Hatch Act set the stage for unprecedented production and availability of food and fiber in the 20th century. The argument supporting public investment in agricultural research is simple: Food is a basic necessity of life. All of society benefits and properly shares in the cost of this investment in national food security and health. Since the 19th century, the public has realized a direct return on investment in agricultural research through the land-grant model. Both land-grant institutions and Agricultural Experiment Stations throughout the U.S. continue to focus on issues of concern to people in the 21st century.