Remembering the 150th Anniversary of the Birth of Land-Grant Universities

December 31, 2012
President Lincoln and Rep. Justin S. Morrill

President Lincoln and Rep. Justin S. Morrill

As a graduate of Oregon State University, I’m proud to be part of the legacy of one of the first land-grant universities. 2012 marked the 150th anniversary of the law signed by President Lincoln that transformed higher education for U.S. engineers, essentially launching the profession we know.

Passed in response to the Industrial Revolution, the Morrill Land-Grant Act was landmark legislation that allocated federal lands to each state and U.S. territory to establish or sell to fund colleges to teach agricultural and mechanical arts, including engineering. Today, about 70 percent of the nation’s engineering degrees are awarded by the 74 colleges and universities in the land grant system. The technical advances and research contributions to engineering that emerged from land-grant institutions helped establish the United States as a global industrial giant. An expansion of the Morrill Act in 1890 also helped establish several of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities.

The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and its member institutions celebrated the Morrill Act’s 150th anniversary this year with events including a national convocation in Washington, D.C., and presentations at this summer’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall in Washington. For more on the fascinating history and legacy of the Morrill Act, read this good feature by the American Association of Engineering Societies. Learn why there should be a greater appreciation for its significant role in creating the modern system of higher education for engineering.

Did you or are you attending a land-grant university? Here’s your free chance to shout its praises. Tell me what makes yours great in the comments below, especially if you can connect it to its land-grant legacy. Happy New Year!


1 Comment
  • Randall (Randy) S. Over, P.E.

    Greg, glad to join you in celebrating the sesquicentennial of the Morrill Land-Grant Act as a proud graduate of “The” Ohio State University. The AAES linked article above notes that state support of Land Grant Universities as an ongoing concern. Some 30+ years ago, the cost for tuition per quarter was ~$300 for in-state and ~$500 for out of state tuition (I was not an Ohio resident at the time). A summer engineering intern or co-op job paid enough for at least one quarter of college – the ability to afford a top notch engineering education was within reach for many. Is that still the case? Are we attracting students from a diverse economic background to Civil Engineering as the price of a Land Grant University education increases?

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