Working for Missourians

Building a bridge to community learning: practical education for everybody

Thanks to the federal establishment of “land-grant” universities, millions of people who have never set foot on a college campus can cross the bridge to higher learning.

Every year, more than 1 million Missourians turn to University of Missouri Extension to gain practical knowledge, learn how to compete in the global marketplace, balance the responsibilities of work and family, protect natural resources and adapt to new technologies.

What follows is a deeper look into the history and significance of MU Extension’s land- grant designation and several profiles of Missourians who have benefited from each of our key program areas.

Land grant universities: a closer look

What does it mean to be a land-grant university? This question-and-answer section explains it all.

Q: What is a land-grant university?
A: Land-grant colleges and universities were established in 1862 by the first Morrill Act. Congress donated 30,000 acres of public land per senator and representative in each state with the intent that the land be sold and the proceeds used to endow and support at least one college.

Q: What is the purpose of “land-grant” universities?
A: The legislation, named for Sen. Justin Morrill of Vermont and signed by President Abraham Lincoln, stated: “… the leading object 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 arts, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”

In other words, these new colleges were to provide education for working-class people, not just philosophers, theologians or members of the elite. Education at “land-grant” colleges was intended to help people make better use of their resources, contribute to the economy and improve their quality of life.

Q: Was the University of Missouri already in existence in 1862?
A: Yes. Founded in 1839, the University of Missouri is the oldest university west of the Mississippi River. Following the English model of education, the University at the time consisted solely of what later became the College of Arts and Science, offering such programs as literature, medicine, religion and law. In 1870, land-grant funds at the University of Missouri were applied to create the College of Agriculture on the Columbia campus and a new School of Mines in Rolla.

Q: How many land-grant colleges and universities are in the United States?
A: The University of Missouri is one of 76 universities in the United States with land-grant designation.

Q: Were all the land-grant colleges established under the 1862 Morrill Act?
A: No. The original Morrill Act was passed in the midst of the Civil War. After the war, provisions were made for African-Americans to benefit from higher education. Accordingly, the Morrill Act of 1890 was passed to ensure that some of the federal funds allotted to the states would be used for historically black institutions, resulting in the creation of 17 land-grant colleges including Lincoln University in Jefferson City. Through a memorandum of understanding, MU Extension and Lincoln University Cooperative Extension carry out a shared plan of work. Lincoln University Cooperative Extension programs focus primarily on meeting the needs of underserved, disadvantaged audiences.

Q: How did extension become part of the land-grant mission?
A: In 1914, Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act, providing federal support for land-grant institutions to offer educational programs to enhance the application of useful and practical information beyond their campuses. These “cooperative extension” efforts were mandated to take place in concert with the states and local communities.

Q: What specifically was cooperative extension mandated to do?
A: The act states: Cooperative agricultural extension work shall consist of the development of practical applications of research knowledge and giving of instruction and practical demonstrations of existing or improved practices or technologies in agriculture, uses of solar energy with respect to agriculture, home economics and rural energy, and subjects relating thereto to persons not attending or resident in said colleges in the several communities …

The purpose was to move research-based knowledge from the centers of learning out to people where they lived and worked.

Q: Where did the idea for cooperative extension come from?
A: Several initiatives laid the groundwork for cooperative extension. Sen. Justin Morrill believed that education for the masses is the key to democracy, peace and prosperity. This belief took root throughout the early 1800s, and in 1867, the first woman was admitted to the University of Missouri. Additionally, Seaman Knapp, a farmer and teacher at the Iowa State Agricultural College, was appointed in 1902 by the U.S. secretary of agriculture as special agent for the promotion of agriculture in the South. Knapp launched a system of federal demonstration farms in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas, which encouraged farmers to employ new production methods while decreasing their individual risk. These farms laid the groundwork for passage of the Hatch Act in 1887, mandating creation of agricultural experiment stations for scientific research. Knapp and others also began homemaker demonstration projects and boys and girls clubs, the forerunner of today’s 4-H. By 1915, there were boys and girls clubs in 47 states.

Q: How did county government become a part of the extension movement?
A: In 1955, state legislation created elected councils in counties to partner with the University in administering and funding local extension activities. Statute 262.597 states that, “The council, in cooperation with the county commission and the university, shall prepare an annual financial budget covering the county's share of the cost of carrying on the extension services …”

Q: What have land-grant universities accomplished over the years?
A: Thanks to land-grant universities, millions of young people—as well as citizens who have never set foot on a college campus—have accessed higher education. People from all walks of life have learned new discoveries in plant and animal science, medicine and human relations. Rural and urban economies have been revitalized, natural resources have been protected, families have been strengthened, and youth have increased skills and have expanded their minds. Communities have learned to make the most of their resources, and individuals have learned how to become local, state, national and international leaders.

Q: What are the University of Missouri’s financial advantages and responsibilities as a consequence of the land-grant connection?
A: Smith-Lever funds are allocated to take research findings to the people. Without those funds, only research and teaching funds would be available to carry out the University’s mission. Cooperative extension appropriations broaden the University’s scope of activity, including taking programs in health and nutrition to populations who would otherwise not be able to afford them. A requirement for receiving Smith-Lever funds is that the dollars must be matched one-for-one with nonfederal cash—including state allocations and program fees. Another USDA requirement is that states must gather stakeholder input to determine the best mix of programming using federal dollars. Those processes help MU Extension to stay in touch with local needs and to plan accordingly.