The public higher education system of the United States was founded during the American Civil War. The mission given to our nation’s first public universities – the land-grant institutions, so termed because the 1862 Morrill Act granted federal land to states as the mechanism to fund higher education – was to bring science, technology, and the arts to the American people. These land-grant universities have been, and continue to be, the engines of our nation’s public higher education system.
Regrettably, both the history and contemporary value of our land-grant institutions seems largely to have been neglected. Ask someone on the street what a land-grant university is, and chances are that individual will not be able to provide you with a coherent answer. Even more disconcerting, however, is the possibility that students, faculty, and alumni from land-grant universities themselves might not offer much more in the way of an articulate response.
Who are America’s land-grant universities, and where are located? The original land-grant institutions founded as the result of the 1862 Morrill Act include such prominent names as Cornell, MIT, Penn State, Rutgers, Ohio State, Texas A&M, West Virginia, and the University of California—four dozen of the largest and best public universities in America. Add to this a significant number of historically black colleges and universities and tribal colleges—in all, almost 300 institutions.
West Virginia President E. Gordon Gee and I are in countdown mode regarding the publication of our new book – Land-Grant Universities for the Future: Higher Education for the Public Good – set for release about 6 months from now by Johns Hopkins University Press. In anticipation, over these next 25 weeks or so I plan on covering various aspects of the land-grant universities in our 50 states*. That’s 2 state’s worth of land-grant institutions per week! I will start with Alabama and Alaska next week, and plan on finishing with Wisconsin and Wyoming by early November. By the end of this exercise, my hope is that readers will gain a brief yet insightful glimpse into the tremendous reach of these outstanding American land-grant universities.
* Yes, there are additional land-grant institutions located across the U.S. territories. I will be giving them special treatment during the winter holidays!