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History of Land-Grant Education

Brief History of the Land-Grant Model of Public Education

The University of Nebraska is one of more than 100 land-grant institutions in the United States and its territories. Although the University of Nebraska–Lincoln was the original campus of the University of Nebraska, the land-grant mission extends to all four campuses of the University of Nebraska system. The land-grant college system was established by the passage of the Morrill Act in 1862.

The Morrill Act of 1862

On July 2, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law a bill that donated land to each state for the establishment of colleges to provide a liberal and practical education to the “industrial class,” or the common person. These colleges would provide instruction in agriculture, military tactics, the mechanic arts and classical studies. Because of the land granted to each state and territory, the Morrill Act of 1862 became known as the land-grant act.

Sponsored by U.S. Congressman Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont, the bill allotted 30,000 acres of public land for each sitting senator and representative in Congress to establish these colleges. Morrill could not have known the future impact this law would have in providing equal opportunity to education to people in the United States and its territories.

Today, there are more than 100 land-grant institutions in the United States and its territories, each focusing on teaching, research and outreach – taking new knowledge to the people.

The University of Nebraska was founded on February 15, 1869 and designated a land-grant institution under the 1862 Morrill Act. The land-grant system formed the framework for the land-grant institutions’ missions of teaching, research and Extension.

Hatch Act of 1887

Twenty-five years after the Morrill Act was passed, the Hatch Act of 1887 provided funding for agricultural research programs at state land-grant agricultural experiment stations in the 50 states of the United States, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories. The Hatch Act established agricultural experiment stations in connection with the land-grant colleges so research could be conducted and applied in practice.

Named for Congressman William Henry Hatch, the Hatch Act established not only experiment stations, but also distribution of information to the people of the United States on subjects connected with agriculture. The Hatch Act also provided an annual payment to each state and territory for the expenses of research, as well as for printing and distributing the results.

Hatch research activities involve a range of options related to agriculture, land use, natural resources, family, human nutrition, community development, forestry and more and can be local, state, regional or national in scope. A further requirement of the Hatch Act of 1887 is that new information is to be extended to the public.

The Morrill Act of 1890

The Morrill Act of 1890 also established funding for land-grant institutions specifically for African-Americans. These institutions are sometimes called “1890 schools.” These 16 public institutions, plus one private institution, are among the more than 100 historically black colleges and universities in the United States. The Morrill Act of 1890 also forbade racial discrimination in admissions policies for institutions receiving these federal funds.

Smith-Lever Act of 1914

The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created a Cooperative Extension Service within each land-grant institution. Cooperative Extension, a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and agricultural colleges, helps to extend information produced by the research of scientists within each college’s experiment station.

Equity in Educational Land-Grant Status Act of 1994

The Equity in Educational Land-Grant Status Act of 1994 provided land-grant status for certain American Indian colleges and institutions, bringing higher education to reservation communities. The act directed the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury to establish a 1994 Institutions Endowment Fund and the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to make capacity-building grants to these institutions.