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  The Land Grant System of Education in the United States
Prior to the mid-1800's in the United States, there were no public universities; only private institutions, and tuition was often too expensive for the average family. In 1862 President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Morrill Act, which gave 10,000 acres of Federal government land to each state to sell and use the proceeds to create a public university to teach agriculture and the mechanic (engineering) arts. Today, every state has a land grant university. Although now there are other public universities as well in most states, it is the land grant university that has the major responsibility for agricultural research and teaching responsibility as well as a major "outreach" or extension education mission to the public.

In 1890, the U. S. Congress also created a number of Black land-grant colleges. These were located in a number of the southern states.

With the implementation of the Hatch Act in 1881, each state also was authorized to create an Agricultural Experiment Station with the purpose to do agricultural research. In 1917, the Smith-Lever Act established the Cooperative Extension Service nationally with each state extension service administrated through the state's land grant university. There is also a local county Extension office serving all 4,000 counties in the United States. The purpose of Extension is to "disseminate useful and practical information" to the public. Thus, the land grant system encompasses three major missions: objective or unbiased research (done by the Experiment Stations), non-formal education and information dissemination (carried out by the Extension Services), and classroom or college instruction ( taught at each land grant campus).

Another aspect that makes the land grant system unique is that funding involves three sources: local county taxes, Federal dollars, and state dollars. At the state level, state and Federal tax dollars support programs. And at the Federal level, there is the United States Department of Agriculture which also has research and extension components which provide national leadership for the total effort and which are supported by Federal dollars. Across all levels (county, state, and federal) some external dollars from industry, business, and private foundations, also helps support programs.

Today's modern land grant university offers many programs other than agriculture and the mechanic arts, but the original mission is still unique relative to other public universities: academic instruction via the classroom; non-formal or continuing education through Extension programs, and basic and applied research produced by experiment stations and other university research components. The land grant university has a major responsibility for "outreach" to the general public. Furthermore, no other educational institution has such diverse support from so many different funding sources.

At the county level, extension agents specialize in agriculture, home economics, youth development and community development. Faculty extension specialists at the state campus provide back-up or supporting expertise. Another unique aspect of the land grant system is that there are advisory committees in all counties and all states that determine local educational needs of the public and which counsel the system about priorities and programs.

In the land grant system, there is much pride and satisfaction in being able to provide practical knowledge and information, based on unbiased scientific research, to citizens everywhere, both rural and urban.