The Morrill act was written in 1862 and named after the act’s sponsor, Vermont congressman Justin Smith Morrill. Morrill was from then on called the “father of the agricultural colleges.” Under the provisions of the act, each state was granted 30,000 acres of federal land for each member of Congress representing that state. (Altogether, the states and territories received 11,367,832 acres). The lands were sold and the resulting funds were used to finance the establishment of one or more school to teach “agriculture and the mechanic arts.” Thought the act specifically stated that other scientific and classical studies need not be excluded, its intent was clearly to meet a rapidly industrializing nation’s need for trained technicians. Military training was required to be included in the curriculum of all land-grant school, and this provision led to the establishment of the Reserve Officers Training Corps, an educational program for future army, navy, and air force officers.
Some states established new schools with their land-grant funds; others turned the money over to existing state or private schools to be used for the establishment of schools of agriculture and mechanics (these came to be known as “A&M” colleges). Altogether, 69 land-grant schools were founded offering programs in agriculture, engineering, veterinary medicine, and other technical subjects. Cornell University in New York , Purdue in Indiana, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ohio state University, The University of Illinois (Urbana), and the University of Wisconsin (Madison) are among the best-known land-grant schools.
With the second Morrill Act (1890), Congress began to make regular appropriations for the support of these institutions, and these appropriations were increased through subsequent legislation. Since the act withheld funds from states that refused to admit nonwhite students unless those states provided “separate but equal” facilities, it encouraged the foundation of black colleges. (This practice was ended by the Supreme Court decision that declared “ separate but equal” schools to be unconstitutional.) Acts in 1847 and 1914 appropriated funds to the land-grant colleges to promote the development of scientific methods of agriculture.
The influence of the land-grant colleges on American higher education has been formidable. In recent years almost one-fifth of all students seeking degrees in the United States were enrolled in land-grant institutions. Pioneering research in physics, medicine, agricultural science, and other fields has been done at land-grant colleges. Because their admissions policies were more open than most other institutions of the day, land-grant schools made it possible for women, working-class students, and students from remote areas to obtain undergraduate and professional education at low cost. Today, all states and Puerto Rico received federal grants to help support land-grant universities.
The educational value of the land-grant idea has been priceless. As a result of this program, old colleges have been able to expand, and new colleges have been created