Delaney: Morrill Anniversary

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(Host) Commentator Dennis Delaney is a former Republican State Senator.
Recently, he’s been thinking about the cost of a college education, and
Vermonter Justin Morrill, founder of the nation’s land grant colleges
and universities.

(Delaney) Vermont is a small state yet the
contributions of our citizens to the nation are many and often
outstanding. One such is the Morrill Act, authored by Vermonter and
United States Senator Justin Smith Morrill in 1862. President Abraham
Lincoln signed it and this year marks the Act’s 150th anniversary.

Morrill’s vision was of a nation in which the federal government would
endow colleges and universities with land grants. There are 70 some
today. The University of Vermont is one. But Senator Morrill also strove
to move higher education away from the prevalent and purely classical
Liberal Arts curriculum. He envisioned at least one university in each
state established, he wrote "upon a sure and perpetual foundation
accessible to all, but especially to the sons of toil, where all of
needful science for the practical avocations shall be taught." The new
focus then, for the land grant institutions, was to be on science,
agriculture and engineering.

Unwilling to rest on this momentous
achievement for a young nation, Justin Morrill enriched his legacy in
1890 with a second Morrill Act – aimed especially at the former
confederate states. The Act required that each state show that race was
not a criterion for college admission. That Vermonter Justin Morrill
fought against racism so long ago might seem surprising, but it
shouldn’t, since Vermont was the first state to bar slavery in its
constitution more than 200 years ago.

But if Justin Morrill
could see the state of higher education today, full of barriers and
burdens facing today’s youth, I’m sure he’d be deeply chagrined. His
gift of land grant universities and colleges across a young America in
the 19th Century stands in stark contrast to the flood of debt that is
overwhelming our young women and men in the 21 st Century.

the close of 2012, the debt of American college students – what they
borrow to become educated – will exceed one trillion dollars. That’s
more than the collective credit card debt held by all Americans. We’re
suffocating in a debt culture that today’s youth and their families have
bought into, though it’s one that Justin Morrill would surely not

Many of our youth are trapped in life altering debt, a
trap which holds them for much of their productive years, if not for
life. I recently saw a political cartoon in which some folks were
standing at the grave of someone who had died at age 87. The comment
was: "And she had almost paid off her student loans."

hundred and fifty years ago Justin Smith Morrill was a Vermont visionary
who made an important contribution when our country was young. We’re a
middle aged nation now but we still need visionaries like Justin
Morrill. Our youth, our tomorrows, need them.

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