What Good is A Degree in Philosophy? The Rise of Land Grant Universities

Land-grant legislation. How it began and who supported it. The votes on the Wabash & Erie canal, the Illinois Central and the Pacific grants. Washington, D. C. September 25, 1884 Library, museum, Michigan Agricultural College (Michigan State University), East Lansing, Mich. Catalogue and circular of the Branch Normal College of the Arkansas Industrial University, located at Pine Bluff, Ark., for the year ending June 7, 1892, and announcement for 1892-3. Wild garden, Michigan Agricultural College (Michigan State University), East Lansing, Mich.]

Labaree writes that in the 19th century, the land grant college was created to meet the goal of practicality and create schools which would prepare young Americans for economic productivity35 . “Turning their backs on the classical curriculum that had long prevailed in colleges, these schools had a mandate to promote practical learning in fields such as agriculture, engineering, military science, and mining”36 . The practical schools Labaree writes of would be publically funded through the state and federal governments.

The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 provided public lands to the states for the establishment of institutions of higher learning which specialized in “the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes”37 . In other words, these schools were to give students a practical education in technical and agricultural sciences and promote research for better efficiency and yield practices. Michigan State University, then Michigan Agricultural College, became the premier land grant university in 1855. An extension of the law in 1890 required that the land allocations be split fairly between Blacks and Whites, greatly increasing the number of prospective students38 . According to Solomon, the sheer mass of expansion encouraged women to exploit their right to attend these new institutions39 . In 1870, Michigan State University, then the State Agricultural College, enrolled some of the first women to attend college in the state of Michigan40 . This was only 15 years after its establishment.


In his book College Reform published in 1851 (featured below), Francis H. Smith wrote that the traditional forms of education in philosophy, Latin, and math did nothing to prepare college students for their futures as professionals. To Smith, what was the point of a college education if it didn’t prepare anyone for real life and work? These arguments are not dissimilar to the ones of today. Smith argues that colleges should in fact be shifted from a liberal arts curriculum to one rooted in math and science so as not to waste the money of parents whose sons were in college. An 1892  course curriculum from the Arkansas Industrial University (featured left) reflects Smith’s ideals for reform. The courses listed include trigonometry, mineralogy, chemistry, english, arithmetic and bookkeeping among some other classical studies like Greek.


During this same period, research became a key component of the university and professionalization system. The research university would drive the pursuit of new knowledge, raise the level of qualifications for a professorialship to a Ph.D., and help continue to growth in the U.S. economy and knowledge base. “This model offered everything that was lacking in the American system. It reinvented university professors as the best minds of the generation, whose expertise was certified by the new entry-level degree, the Ph.D., and who were pushing back the frontiers of knowledge through scientific research. It introduced graduate students to the college campus, who would be selected for their high academic promise and trained to follow in the footsteps of their faculty mentors”41 . This helped legitimate colleges and universities as serious institutions of higher learning working to produce the best quality information and graduates. It would also help drive the continuous cycle between increased professionalization, knowledge, and research in the pursuit of more: more knowledge, more qualifications, more information.

FOOTNOTES

35. Labaree, David F. "2013 Dewey Lecture:  College – What is it good for??." Education and Culture 30, no. 1 (2014): page 6

36. Labaree, David F. "2013 Dewey Lecture:  College – What is it good for??." Education and Culture 30, no. 1 (2014): page 6

37. Solomon, Barbara Miller. In the company of educated women: A history of women and higher education in America. Yale University Press, 1985. page 44

38. Solomon, Barbara Miller. In the company of educated women: A history of women and higher education in America. Yale University Press, 1985. page 44

39. Solomon, Barbara Miller. In the company of educated women: A history of women and higher education in America. Yale University Press, 1985. page 45

40. Michigan State University. "Our Inclusive Heritage Timeline". Inclusive and Intercultural Initiatives. (2019). http://inclusion.msu.edu/bic/our-inclusive-heritage.html

41. Labaree, David F. "2013 Dewey Lecture:  College – What is it good for??." Education and Culture 30, no. 1 (2014): page 6

What Good is A Degree in Philosophy? The Rise of Land Grant Universities