Learning from Land-Grant Colleges: Starting a New Education Agenda


On July 2, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act that resulted in many colleges and universities now designated across America as land-grant institutions. Each State and major territory has at least one land-grant institution that all total about 110 American college and universities (See listing). Today marks the 150-year anniversary of this original legislation, which is another opportunity to take a fresh look at their purpose and intention.

Although I have written extensively about land-grants (for example, see posting On the Commons), perhaps the most important point is their potential for creating an improved national agenda and educational policy. Among many of the topics that require reconsideration, making clear distinctions within education are essential.

The reason is that most national discussions about education lies within the K-12 perspective, that is elementary and secondary education. Other levels of education such as higher, adult, continuing, and vocational are lumped into postsecondary and tertiary levels layered with divisions.

Making clearer distinctions could inform society about the kinds of education that is needed for current times, instead of using terms haphazardly without evidence whether improvement have occurred or missions have been met.

What makes land-grant institutions so promising is not their location in towns and cities, but that there were originally established to introduce a “new education” for the needs of society. In the nineteenth century, farming and agriculture were needed, but in the 21st century, fields in science, technology, and engineering have required more attention. This shift in priority also requires a new engagement to education that outlines its purpose and outcomes. Priorities such as STEM is not just for K-12 education, but also for the broader education and learning of society at all levels. Changes across all educational institutions, including land-grants, should lead in this new agenda.

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