Academics Mark 150th Anniversary Of Morrill Act’s Signing

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One-hundred-fifty years ago Monday, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act.

That’s a law named for Senator Justin Morrill of Strafford that established a system of public colleges and universities devoted to engineering and agriculture. And those schools today enroll nearly five million students.

Higher education officials are celebrating the anniversary of the landmark legislation by examining issues facing universities today.

UVM interim president John Bramley says the 1862 law was one of the country’s most forward thinking acts because it led to big changes in higher education.

"In some ways you can argue it actually was one of the first acts of civil freedom and access, because up until that time education was pretty much the preserve of white male landed individuals – those with resources," Bramley said.

The law Morrill wrote was designed to shift America’s education focus from the classics and religion. It was intended to connect agricultural and engineering research to benefit the state. But Bramley says the act’s vision of broader access to higher education is at risk today.

"More and more students and families are struggling to attend college," Bramley said. "More and more students are coming out of college with significant debt. Some are even questioning the investment in college, so I think that whole access piece starts to come under threat again."

UVM became Vermont’s land-grant university in 1865.  Today, land-grant institutions award about a third of all bachelor’s degrees and 60 percent of doctorates in the U.S.

Weekly historic tours of the UVM campus take place on Saturdays throughout the summer from 10-12 through Oct. 13.

The Justin Morrill Symposium will be held on Saturday and Sunday, August 11 and 12 in the town of Strafford, birthplace of Senator Morrill.

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