agriculture, and so the "leading object" of the new land grant colleges was "to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanical arts … in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life" (1862 Morrill Act). The opening of land grant colleges during the latter half of the 19th century helped expand higher education opportunities into the western parts of the nation as the population also migrated westward.

Throughout their history, the land grant colleges of agriculture have had a unique relationship with the federal government and a special responsibility to the public. Three pieces of federal legislation—the first Morrill Act (1862), the Hatch Act (1887), and the Smith-Lever Act (1914)—endowed the colleges with a three-part mission of teaching, research, and extension. The third component of the mission—extension—links the LGCAs' programs to the needs of society at large through a service function that includes extending education and technology transfer to the public.

Federal legislation also spawned a federal-state partnership in agricultural science and education (with a local government component, as well, for extension). The traditional federal partner is the USDA, particularly its extra- and intramural science agencies. As described in the Profile report, the USDA agency that administers base funding and grants programs for extramural research, education, and extension is the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES). 1 Each U.S. state and territorial government (through their land grant colleges and associated state agricultural experiment stations and extension services) is a partner at the state and territorial levels.

The partnership has a financial component: each state and territory receives federal funding through USDA for its agricultural research and extension if it matches these federal funds with its own resources. The federal-state partnership also entails a working relationship in identifying national issues and setting priorities in food and agricultural research and education, and in sharing responsibilities for the conduct of agricultural research and technology transfer.

A unique aspect of the LGCA system is that a portion of federal funding for agricultural research and extension is allocated to the colleges, through their associated state experiment stations and extension services, according to formulas.2 The variable components of these formulas are the percentages of the nation's rural and farm populations located in each state and territory. Federal funding for research has been allocated by this formula since the 1935 Bankhead-Jones Act, and federal funding for extension has been allocated by formula since the 1914 Smith-Lever Act (National Research Council, 1995a).

In sum, the LGCA system has a distinctive history and is defined by some unique institutional arrangements. This report is oriented toward assessing how well these arrangements have continued to function in the context of changes in farming, in societal issues and concerns related to food and agriculture, in the science base for food and agriculture, and in the public funding environment.

The Changing Context Of The LGCA System And The New National Interest

Since the colleges' early years, and in good part because of the colleges' contributions to agricultural knowledge and farm productivity, the agricultural industry, nationwide, has undergone a transformation. The productivity of farm labor has increased almost sevenfold since 1948, and the productivity of all farm inputs together has almost tripled since 1948 as a result of the development of modern farm technology and improvements


The main intramural science agency at USDA is the Agricultural Research Service. Intramural research is also conducted by the Economic Research Service and the Forest Service. Intramural research agencies have contracts and cooperative agreements with the land grant colleges, as well as other collaborative relationships.


Until recently, LGCAs also received base institutional support, known as Morrill-Nelson grants, for their academic programs. Recently these funds were eliminated and a USDA-administered competitive grants program for curriculum and teaching innovation (challenge grants) was expanded. Unlike Morrill-Nelson funds, challenge grants are accessible to non-land grant faculty.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement