A land-grant university is a United States institute of higher education that was given federal land by the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890. Read on to learn more about the history of land grant universities in the U.S. and the status of these institutions today.

History of the Land-Grant Program

In the early 1800s, advocates of agricultural education were lobbying the government to create colleges and universities specifically for agriculture and mechanical learning. Their dream was realized in 1862 when the Morrill Act granted eligible states 30,000 acres of land to establish institutes of learning that would focus on practical agriculture, science, military science, and engineering. In 1890, the Act was further expanded by a land-grant program geared toward confederate states, requiring them to either discount race as an admissions criterion or designate a separate land-grant program for students of color.

Establishment of Land-Grant Universities

Kansas was the first state to take advantage of the land grant program with the establishment of Kansas State University in 1863, followed by Iowa which established State Agricultural College (now Iowa State University) in 1864. However, the oldest still existing land-grant university is actually Rutgers University in New Jersey; while it was not designated as a land-grant institution until 1864, it was founded in 1766. Eventually, according to the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, at least one land-grant institution was established in every state and the District of Columbia. The United States Department of Agriculture maintains a map of these institutions.

Land-Grant Universities Today

In many cases, the existing modern land-grant universities have expanded to become modern public research institutions, although most still teach the practical skills upon which they were established. They still strive to provide this education to all Americans regardless of race or economic status. However, there are a few land-grant universities that are now private schools, most notably the Ivy League's Cornell University. Many land grants also receive federal funding to support agricultural initiatives; more information is available in a recent National Public Radio broadcast.

Benefits of Attending a Land-Grant University

If you're interested in a practical public education, a land-grant university may be a good choice for you. This is especially true if you're interested in staying in your home state for college, as you may receive a lower cost education and additional benefits than you would if you chose to attend an out-of-state school. And because there are more than 70 land-grant universities in the U.S., you're sure to find one in your state that closely fits your educational objectives.

Resource: List of Scholarships Available by State

Historically, land-grant universities were an innovative way of supporting the country through economic growth in key fields like agriculture, science, and engineering, while also providing residents of all social classes a chance to better their station in life through higher education. While college costs have risen astronomically over the years, attending a university of this kind may be a unique opportunity for a world-class education without the sticker shock of a private university.

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