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Conference Celebrates 150 years of Land-Grant Universities

When: Jun 22, 2011 to
Jun 24, 2011

Where: Nittany Lion Inn, Penn State University Park

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The Legacy and the Promise: 150 Years of Land-Grant Universities

To honor the upcoming 150th anniversary of the passage of the Morrill Land Grant College Act in 2012, Penn State will sponsor a scholarly conference in 2011 to inaugurate the national sesquicentennial observance by examining the past and the future of the land-grant mission.

When the Morrill Land Grant College Act became law on July 2, 1862, its goal was to promote collegiate education for the “industrial classes” in the practical fields of agriculture and the mechanic arts (engineering), without neglecting “classical studies” (the liberal arts) and including military tactics. It did so by investing public resources — in this case, federal land — to provide the financial underpinning that would make college accessible to the “sons of toil.”

From their very beginning, land-grant institutions had multiple missions: advancing agriculture and other “practical arts”; providing the “industrial classes” with an opportunity for education; mobilizing public support for higher education; and contributing to national economic growth. Such varied goals were often contested among the act’s constituencies of farmers, scientists, workers, and businessmen, all expecting to have their interests served. Both conflict and accommodation ensued as the land-grant colleges and universities defined their roles during the decades when American higher education underwent unprecedented expansion.

Today, the land-grant colleges have become some of the largest and most respected universities in the world, but the land-grant mission itself is undergoing redefinition. The value of higher education as a public good, which inspired the original Morrill Act, is now being challenged. Public support for state colleges and universities is diminishing, along with consensus on public responsibility for higher education. The role of land-grant institutions in providing access to higher education has become far more complex, requiring further interpretation. Relationships with the “practical arts” have grown enormously, and now encompass varying facets of research, commercialization, and economic development. Moreover, these universities have assumed responsibilities for service and outreach with few apparent limits.



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