In the college decision process, most agriculture majors have an easy choice compared to those who are not interested in agriculture: which land grant school do I want to go to? During that process four years ago, I did not know what attracted me to a land grant university, but I knew I wanted to go to one. So, what exactly is a land grant school? What makes them so different from a normal college or a university? And why do many agriculture students want to attend them?
Land grant universities were created under the First Morrill Act of 1862, in which President Lincoln gave US government land to states to sell to fund and establish colleges for students to study agriculture and mechanic arts, which we now refer to as engineering. States took advantage of the act to establish new colleges founded on agriculture and science. These colleges were first used to educate the masses on science, technology, and agriculture; however, now they have been transformed into universities with world-leading research on cutting-edge issues in science, technology, and most importantly agriculture.
The state of Iowa in 1862 voted to accept the provisions of the Morrill Act, making Iowa Agricultural College, now Iowa State University in Ames, IA, the first land-grant university in the nation.
Land grant universities differ from other college and universities because they are usually affiliated with some type of state funding and the cooperative extension in the state. Schools such as University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and Purdue University receive partial funding from their state legislature for programs. What makes them different from other universities and colleges? Often these other colleges and universities do not receive state funds and are funded through private donations.
Furthermore, most land grant universities have some type of Cooperative Extension system attached to them. The Cooperative Extension system was established by the 1914 Smith-Leverson Act and works to educate all people, not just students, about knowledge and research conducted at universities. Originally, it was thought that the Cooperative Extension system was used to communicate agricultural research to farmers. Today, Cooperative Extension programs focus on educating both urban and rural people about all aspects of life including health, nutrition, and financial planning. One example of this outreach educational programs is 4-H, which is facilitated through the Extension programs of universities.
So, what attracts so many agriculture students like myself to land grant universities? For me, it was the rich tradition of agriculture built into a land grant school. It was the pride I could take knowing that I attended a school that was a national leader in agricultural research. It was the fact that I could take the knowledge and skills learned at that school and go out and help the world. A land grant school was the right fit for me and millions of other agriculture students across the nation.
Iowa State University