It’s college decision time, when high school seniors are thinking about where to apply and what to study. Many local 4-H members consider studying agriculture and someday returning to the family ranch. In Colorado, that decision most likely will mean applying to our state land-grant university, Colorado State University.
If you have ever wondered what it means to be a land-grant university, the answer goes back to a decision made by President Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago.
There were no pubic universities in the early years of our nation. The only institutions of higher education were private, liberal arts schools with tuition that often was too expensive for the average family. In the midst of the Civil War, our leaders had the vision to initiate a process of providing public higher education for the nation — the land-grant college system. Once built, these institutions would help our country grow and develop by providing education in practical topics such as agriculture, mechanical arts (engineering) and, eventually, home arts.
When Lincoln signed the Morrill Act in 1862, it granted at least 30,000 acres of federal land to each state or territory to fund the building of a public college. Each state was to sell the land and invest the proceeds in an endowment for the creation of a public institution of higher education. The Morrill Act resulted in the allocation of 17.4 million acres of federal land, which yielded an endowment of about $7.55 million when it was sold.
CSU was founded as Colorado Agricultural College in 1870. Now, there are more than 70 public universities in the land-grant system.
Since their creation, all land-grant universities have had a three-part mission: education, research and extension. With a purpose to educate all people, land-grant universities opened up higher education to farmers, ranchers and those engaged in business. Their focus continues to be providing practical research, instruction and reaching out to rural and urban areas through their Extension Service offices found in most counties, including Routt County.
This year, we celebrate the 150th anniversary of land-grant institutions and their dedication to improving agriculture. Here in Routt County, we benefit from the local research and test plots, which continue to help improve our agricultural practices. We also benefit from the local Extension office, the purpose of which is to share this useful and practical information with residents.
Karen Massey is the interim director of the Routt County Extension Office.