Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Economics or Education: The Establishment of American Land-Grant Universities

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Economics or Education: The Establishment of American Land-Grant Universities

Article excerpt

In the United States, institutions of public higher education exist in an environment characterized by constrained resources and shifting interests on the part of students and other clienteles. Parents and politicians are demanding that public universities move away from their emphasis on research and make teaching top priority. Taking the brunt of this outcry are the flagships of American public higher education: land-grant universities. Contemporary demands for change have led policymakers to reexamine the basic mission of these institutions. However, as with many areas of public policy, higher education policymakers tend to overlook historical factors in their deliberations. This is due, in part, to the time constraints of the policy-making process. There is often little time to examine historical origins of contemporary problems. In addition, policy decisions are usually based on input from analysts who are trained as economists or political scientists, or in areas such as operations research or system analysis. These approaches do not customarily incorporate historical analysis.

When policymakers do request historical background or explanation, the time pressures force a rapid examination of secondary sources to produce the desired report. The authors of four widely acknowledged works on the history of the land-grant college movement--Edward D. Eddy's Colleges for Our Land and Time: The Land-Grant idea in American Education (1957); Joseph B. Edmond's The Magnificent Charter: The Origin and Role of the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges and Universities (1978); Allan Nevins' The State Universities and Democracy (1962); and Earle D. Ross's Democracy's College: The Land-Grant College in the Formative Stage (1942) -- seem to consider the land-grant college movement as part of the educational evolution of the United States. They view the emergence of these colleges as inevitable because of the educational demands of a growing democracy. For instance, they suggest that the common people, particularly farmers, wanted to have available higher education geared toward their practical interests. These historians identify educational reform as the principle motivation in the passage of the Morrill Act [7, 8, 16, 18].(1)

An examination of well-known histories of American higher education such as John S. Brubacher and Willis Rudy's Higher Education in Transition: An American History, 1736-1956 (1958); Richard M. Hofstadler and Wilson Smith's American Higher Education: A Documentary History (1961); Frederick Rudolph's The American College and University: A History (1962); and Laurence R. Veysey's The Emergence of the American University (1965) confirms this focus on education. These historians identify two other critical elements in the development of land-grant universities: the debate over curricular changes away from a classical toward a more science-based curriculum and the emergence of the Morrill Act (1862) as a mechanism for distributing the public lands that initiated the federal practice of grants-in-aid to achieve specific objectives [4, 12, 19, 28].

While these historians agree that educational reform was paramount, they also argue that the Morrill Act was a watermark for federal involvement in higher education.(2) This view is shared by others who have reexamined the conventional interpretation. While Eldon L. Johnson cautions against ascribing too much too early to the institutions that came out of the Morrill Act, he underscores in "Misconceptions about the Early Land-Grant Colleges" (1981) the importance of these institutions as a forerunner of change in American higher education [13]. Lawrence A. Cremin, in American Education: The National Experience, 1783-1876 (1980), takes this interpretation further by arguing that the Morrill Act established a "national network of educational research and development institutions that the federal government would subsequently use for a variety of enterprises" [5, p. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.