Public Policy and America's Land-Grant Educational Enterprise: The Unique West Virginia Experience

By Sink, John D. | The Journal of Negro Education, Winter 1995 | Go to article overview
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Public Policy and America's Land-Grant Educational Enterprise: The Unique West Virginia Experience

Sink, John D., The Journal of Negro Education


For almost a century following the Civil War, the principal resources for educating Blacks at the college level were what have come to be known as the nation's historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that were established in 19 states, mostly in the South. Although a majority of these more than one hundred institutions were founded as "normal schools" (teachers' colleges), 18 were initially established as state land-grant colleges or were later given this status to conform with federal requirements that the benefits of land-grant programs in the U.S. be available to both Blacks and Whites (Ploski & Williams, 1989).

American educational policy, as iterated in the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, designates the states as having the authority to exercise primary responsibility for education at every level. However, for more than 130 years, America's federal land-grant legislation has been at the center of this country's higher education policy debates. Nowhere have these debates been more evident than in the public policy arena of mission and resource allocation between the two types of land-grant universities: those chartered by the 1862 Morrill Act, which were originally and presently predominantly White; and those chartered by the 1890 Morrill Act, or the nation's public HBCUs (Nelson, 1985; Sink, 1982). This debate continues to generate serious policy conflicts between national needs, state control, and institutional aspirations ("Desegregation Case," 1992). West Virginia has become the center of a truly unique policy controversy, one without precedent in the entire history of America's land-grant movement ("West Virginia State's Land-Grant Status Reinstated," 1991).


The Federal View

As early as 1857, Congressman Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont recognized that federal intervention was necessary to remedy the systematic exclusion of the less-advantaged "common man" from the benefits of higher education. To redress this situation, Morrill put forth legislation aiming "to donate public lands to the several states and territories which may provide colleges for the benefit of agriculture and the mechanic arts" (Morrill Act of 1862, 12 Stat. 503). Morrill's bill was vetoed by President James Buchanan in 1859 on the grounds that it violated the traditional policy of the federal government, which had, up to that time, left the control of education to the states. On July 2, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law this landmark piece of educational policy, which provided the foundation for further development of America's major public postsecondary institutions.

During the time since their establishment, the land-grant colleges and universities of the United States have grown to represent to the world a unique system of higher education (Brunner, 1962). Each state accepting the benefits of the 1862 Morrill Act was obligated to establish "at least one college where the leading objective shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life" (12 Stat. 503). Currently, 51 such institutions exist in the 50 states. Similar institutions were established in Puerto Rico in 1908, in the District of Columbia in 1969, in Guam and the Virgin Islands in 1973, and in American Samoa and Micronesia (also known as the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands) in 1981, and in the Northern Mariana Islands in 1986.

Ten years after the first Morrill act was passed, the Senator from Vermont introduced a bill to provide for the further endowment of the land-grant colleges. Though this bill was defeated in 1873, Senator Morrill was not easily discouraged. He garnered the assistance of two astute 1862 college presidents, Pennsylvania State University's George W.

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Public Policy and America's Land-Grant Educational Enterprise: The Unique West Virginia Experience


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