Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Morrill Act
One hundred fifty years ago today, on July 2, 1862, in the cruel crucible of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act into law. Often referred to as the Land-Grant College Act, the law was a major milestone in expanding and democratizing American public higher education. UCLA traces its roots as a public research university to this landmark legislation.
As we celebrate the sesquicentennial of the Morrill Act, we should dedicate ourselves to providing world-class, public higher education that is accessible and affordable to all.
Prior to 1862, the benefits of a college education were reserved for a very small percentage of the population. The Morrill Act expanded access to higher education to all segments of society, not just the sons of the privileged elite. Throughout the 20th century, as land-grant colleges and other public universities spread throughout the country, college enrollment among 18-to-22-year-olds rose steadily, and so too did our level of prosperity, both in California and across the nation. Today, UCLA generates billions of dollars of economic activity for the state each year. Beyond that, we are a powerful engine of opportunity—providing education, research and service that drive our state and our nation forward, and enriching millions of lives around the globe.
One of my favorite quotes about education comes from a 1786 letter penned by Thomas Jefferson. He wrote, “Let us in education dream of an aristocracy of achievement rising out of a democracy of opportunity.”
Those words—a democracy of opportunity—so eloquently describe the dream of public higher education. Let us draw inspiration from the vision and courage of the leaders who enacted the Morrill Act, and let us uphold its bold promise.
Gene D. Block
July 2, 2012