Land Grant Colleges and the Morrill Act, at 150 Years Old
Lawmakers and higher education officials this week are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the "Morrill Act", signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 in the midst of the Civil War. Named after senator Justin Morrill of Vermont , it established the nation's system of land-grant universities, providing each state with federal land to be sold to fund public colleges. And it was controversial legislation. Senator Morrill envisioned a democratization of higher education at time when college was largely reserved for children of the elite. UMASS was established under the Morrill Act in in 1863. In Amherst, the site of the first campus, it was a one building agricultural school.
Steven Herbert who today heads UMASS Amherst's Center for Agriculture says the Morrill act remains relevant. "If the universities weren't established way back then based in agricultural and mechanical arts, then I don't think we would have the food system, the sophistication of American agriculture that with have with every state contributing a huge number of scientists to research and outreach."
Herbert was in Washington for the commemoration of the Morrill Act. He says UMASS, UCONN, UNH and UVM -- and all land grant universities --- receive several million dollars a year in federal funds for academics and research. Currently, there are 106 land-grant universities in the U.S. Subsequent college-related legislation like the Morrill Acts of 1890 and 1994, established land-grant institutions that were historically geared to black and Native Americans.