The July 2, 1862, passage of the Morrill Act led to the birth of NC State University and dozens of other land-grant institutions.

Land-Grant Legacy

July 2, 2012

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NC State is in the midst of celebrating its March 7, 1887, founding. But another anniversary, 25 years earlier, is just as significant to the university’s history. On July 2, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, which led to the establishment of land-grant universities.

Under the Morrill Act, the federal government designated land for sale in each state, 30,000 acres for each of the state’s U.S. House representatives. That’s the “land-grant” in “land-grant university.” The Morrill Act universities were established to teach agricultural and mechanical arts, as well as military science. In North Carolina, the law birthed the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now NC State). A second Morrill Act in 1890 led to the establishment of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

The Act also made higher education accessible to the masses. With its passage, “higher education the United States was no longer confined to its earlier classical, elitist beginnings,” Alice Elizabeth Reagan wrote in her 1987 book, “North Carolina State University: A Narrative History.”

Much has changed at NC State since its founding. Academic offerings have grown to include more than 200 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degree programs. The university’s name itself has changed several times.

Despite all that growth, the land-grant mission still animates much of NC State’s work. The College of Engineering and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences rank first and second, respectively, in enrollment at NC State. Through the Cooperative Extension Service, a partnership with NC A&T, NC State supports farmers in all 100 N.C. counties.

NC State also maintains its connection to the military. ROTC is a strong presence on campus, and the university’s academic and research programs are helping to prepare and protect soldiers. NC State has also graduated more general military officers than any non-service academy in the country.

“The 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act is cause for celebration and reflection,” Chancellor Randolph Woodson said. “NC State continues to uphold the mission of land-grant universities established a century and a half ago, serving the state of North Carolina through innovation, research and extension.”