Date: 2nd July 2012
Although it is far from most students' radar, this summer marks an important anniversary in the realm of higher education. Just 150 years ago, the Civil War was raging across the country, as President Abraham Lincoln calmly sat in his office, planning the future of the nation's education sector.
Remembering the Morrill Act
In 1862, Lincoln signed a series of laws, one of which was the Morrill Act, or the Land Grant Act. The legislation was a critical milestone in higher education, as it established public universities in each state to train people in the areas of home economics, agriculture, mechanical arts and other popular fields of the era.
Now 150 years later, various national leaders are honoring this important law and the progress the U.S. had made in academia since then. According to USA Today, Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, will be the keynote speaker at today's symposium in Washington D.C., which is sponsored by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU).
Among those in attendance will be university presidents, Cabinet secretaries and various educational leaders. Peter McPherson, APLU president, told Penn State Live that given the success and importance of the Morrill Act, the nation should reserve this time to celebrate.
"The Morrill Act was the democratization of higher education at time when college was largely reserved for the children of the elite," McPherson said. "Morrill expanded higher education and economic mobility to the sons and daughters of ordinary people. One hundred and fifty years later, public universities enroll more than 7 million students annually, undertake 60 percent of federally funded academic research, and work daily to solve local and regional problems. We have much to celebrate."
Calling for Further Improvements in Higher Education
While the nation has made great strides in improving higher education since 1862, figures like Gates know further advancements are still necessary, as the cost of college continues to increase. Corresponding with the Morrill Act's 150-year anniversary, the Carnegie Corporation of New York conducted a national poll to gauge the nation's thoughts on higher education.
According to the poll of 1,000 Americans, 76% believe access to higher education, whether it be an associate's or bachelor's degree, should be a right. Nearly half of these individuals felt very strongly on this issue.
As the nation remembers its educational past, leaders like Vartan Gregorian, Carnegie president, believe Americans should also consider their academic futures.
"This is an occasion for a renewal of America's commitment to higher education," Gregorian said in a statement.