Land-Grant Colleges

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Land-grant colleges are those institutions of higher learning which are endowed by funds set up under the Morrill Act of 1862. The legislation, officially called the Land-Grant Act, was sponsored by Vermont Congressman Justin Smith Morrill (18101898), who served in the House of Representatives between 1855 and 1867, and in the Senate between 1867 and 1898. The U.S. public was increasingly demanding the establishment of colleges that would specialize in agricultural and manufacturing programs. Farming remained critical to the nation's economy, whose industrial sector was growing. Training in these areas was essential to the country's future. In 1862 this argument convinced Congress to add military programs to the curriculum of the future schools and to vote to grant more than 11.3 million acres (4.6 hectares) of land to states and territories. These lands were to be sold by the states or territories, and the money would be invested in funds used to set up state colleges. Thirty states (primarily in the Midwest and South) used the funds to set up agricultural and mechanical (A&M) colleges; eighteen states gave the funds to already existing colleges to set up new agricultural and mechanical programs; and the rest granted the funds to private institutions of higher learning. In 1890 a second Morrill Act added money grants to the states for use in A&M programs. Michigan State University, founded as Michigan Agricultural College in 1855, became the model for the land-grant colleges, which also include the University of Illinois, Texas A&M, and the University of California. The far-sighted provisions of the land-grant gave the nation many of its foremost universities.