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The Morrill Act is Part of our DNA by Dean Cathy Sandeen

Today is the anniversary of the passage of a key piece of higher education legislation in the U.S.  To commemorate this, I would like to pass along excerpts from a message I received from Gene D. Block, Chancellor of UCLA and Chair of the Board of Directors of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities:

“One hundred fifty years ago today, on July 2, 1862, in the cruel crucible of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act into law. Often referred to as the Land-Grant College Act, the law was a major milestone in expanding and democratizing American public higher education. . . .

Prior to 1862, the benefits of a college education were reserved for a very small percentage of the population. The Morrill Act expanded access to higher education to all segments of society, not just the sons of the privileged elite. Throughout the 20th century, as land-grant colleges and other public universities spread throughout the country, college enrollment among 18-to-22-year-olds rose steadily, and so too did our level of prosperity, both in California and across the nation. . . .

One of my favorite quotes about education comes from a 1786 letter penned by Thomas Jefferson. He wrote, “Let us in education dream of an aristocracy of achievement rising out of a democracy of opportunity.”

Those words—a democracy of opportunity—so eloquently describe the dream of public higher education. Let us draw inspiration from the vision and courage of the leaders who enacted the Morrill Act, and let us uphold its bold promise.”

An important message for us all to think about and remember.

Of course, post-secondary education is now increasingly accessible to nontraditional students and in nontraditional formats. As part of our DNA in U.S. postsecondary education, the groundbreaking Morrill Act lives on and continues to have an impact.