The land-grant college concept represents a dynamic educational experience: the body of knowledge constantly changes through research and experimentation and is disseminated to the public through extension education. New knowledge brings new ideas and expanded opportunities, often followed by new milestones and advancements in the land-grant university experience.
In the late 1850s, Congressman Justin Smith Morrill envisioned universities that were accessible to all, including the working class. And unlike the higher-education institutions of his time, these universities would reach out to improve communities and make their research widely available. The Morrill Act has provided a broad segment of the population with a practical education that has direct relevance to their daily lives.
Below is a portion of the speech Morrill gave on the House floor in support of the bill in April 1858:
Our population is rapidly increasing, and brings annually increased demands for bread and clothing. If we can barely meet this demand while we have fresh soils to appropriate, we shall early reach the point of our decline and fall. The nation which tills the soil so as to leave it worse than they found it, is doomed to decay and degradation.
… shall we not have schools to teach men the way to feed, clothe, and enlighten the great brotherhood of man?
Farmers will not be cheated longer by unsustained speculations. The test of the field must follow and verify that of the laboratory. The half-bushel and the balance must prove the arithmetic. The result must support the theory. They want substance and not a shadow — bread and not a stone. They know well there is a vast force of agricultural labor hitherto misapplied, muscles that sow where they do not reap, and they demand light — demand to have their arms unpinioned! What has been an art merely to supply physical wants must become a science.
Signed into law in 1862, the Morrill Act fostered the land-grant mission, which has evolved to serve not only our nation, but also the global population. And as that mission has evolved, Texas A&M AgriLife has revolutionized our own concept of what it means to be a land-grant university and is always planning for what lies ahead. The need for land-grant universities has never been greater. Currently, one-sixth of the world’s population suffers from chronic hunger. More than two billion people worldwide live in regions facing water scarcity. And global competition for natural resources is becoming fiercer.
Our programs benefit many, from individuals to the international community. And together, the College and agencies of Texas A&M AgriLife, are making a powerful and profound impact on our state, our nation, and our world.
Read more about the Morrill Act Sesquicentennial Anniversary.