Morrill Act
University of Illinois

The Morrill Act at 150: The Future of Public Higher Education is a celebration of the Morrill Act, which President Abraham Lincoln signed into law in 1862, and its continued relevance in shaping the mission of public higher education in the United States. The Morrill Act allocated 30,000 acres of Federal government land to each state to sell, the proceeds from which were used to establish public colleges.

The Morrill Act has had a profound impact on the economic and social landscape of our nation over the last 150 years by expanding access to higher education beyond the privileged few to the nation's citizenry at large. Further, its focus on education in agriculture and the mechanical arts dramatically altered the role of universities—shifting from an education focused on the classics to a mission of preparing students to address critical societal needs, creating new knowledge, and engaging with the public. Over time, this mission has permeated the focus of public colleges and universities throughout the United States.

Today, educational access and the need for universities to respond to broad issues within society are as critical to the nation's future success as they were in 1862. However, economic access for a large, diverse global citizenry, including adult learners, presents new challenges and opportunities. We must foster educational advances that will harness our nation's creative energies across the spectrum and cultivate the innovations needed to respond to the challenges of the 21st century.

The scope of contemporary societal needs exceeds the initial focus on agriculture and manufacturing originally exemplified in the Morrill Act. The challenge of enhancing human well-being (food, energy, the environment, health care services, for example) requires a reaffirmation of commitment from public higher education to the principles of the Morrill Act and the availability of resources to fulfill that commitment.  

Building upon this 150 year legacy of success, we are challenged to reaffirm our land-grant mission of fostering educational advances that will best harness the nation's human capital and creative talent to spark innovation and respond to the challenges of the 21st century.

The symposium on October 26, 2012 will not only celebrate the past successes of public higher education but also explore the changing role of public higher education. The event will include panel discussions, visual and performing arts presentations, and an exhibition space featuring teaching and research methods and showcasing the accomplishments of university units.