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History

Advancing Cornell as New York State's Land Grant University
Statue of A.D. White set against autumn foliage
Statue of A.D. White set against autumn foliage

The forward-thinking educational approach, breadth of study, diverse student population, and emphasis on public service that have always characterized Cornell University can be traced to a unique set of circumstances at the time of its founding in 1865. American higher education of that time was dominated by sectarian colleges whose primary purpose was to train the professional class. Yet agriculture was America's prime economic endeavor in the 1850s, and the Industrial Revolution was well underway, bringing with it new technology - railroads, telegraphs, steamboats, indoor plumbing - and innovations in existing tools, such as plows and firearms, that transformed agriculture and manufacturing and forever changed domestic life. Education reformers pressed for curricula aimed at preparing agricultural and industrial workers to take advantage of modernized approaches, and for government support to extend higher education to all citizens, regardless of social or economic status.

In 1862, Congress passed a bill to provide for "at least one college in each state where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific or classical studies, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts...in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes." The bill provided for a grant of federal land to each state, which could sell the land and use the proceeds to build and operate its new college. President Lincoln signed the Morrill Land Grant Act into law that same year.

In 1863, Ezra Cornell and Andrew D. White were elected to the New York State Senate. Both men took an interest in the land grant issue, working at first on plans involving existing colleges. Then, in January 1865, Cornell mentioned to White that his personal fortune exceeded his family's needs, and he wanted to do something beneficial for the state. White shared his vision of an institution where scientific and technical education would be married with studies in history and literature. A month later, White introduced a bill "to establish the Cornell University, and to appropriate to it the income of the sale of public lands granted to this State." With White as its president, Cornell University opened its doors to its first students in 1867.

Resources

2007 Economic Impact Report


As New York State's land grant university, Cornell transfers and applies university-based knowledge for practical benefits and, as a major enterprise, contributes to the State's economic prosperity. The report, Cornell University, Economic Impact on New York State, assesses the scope of Cornell's economic contributions.

View Full 2007 Report (PDF)

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View the 2009 Economic Impact Report

Report of the Commission on the Future of the Cornell Cooperative Extension System (PDF)
Presented to President Frank H. T. Rhodes, Cornell University Ithaca, New York, by Robben W. Fleming, Chair of the Commission: March 1987.

Land Grant Mission Review: Implementation Plans and Actions, May 15, 2003 (PDF)
Report of Cornell's review of its land grant mission. Includes comments on progress implementing various land grant programs, and presents common concerns and agreed-upon goals expressed by the stakeholders.

Advancing Cornell as New York State's Land Grant University (PDF)
A summary of selected reviews of Cornell's land grant mission and programs, along with a discussion of recurring themes to be addressed in the future, prepared on the occasion of the last meeting of the Cornell University Trustee Committee on Land Grant and Statutory College Affairs, May 2005.

"A Land-Grant University" (PDF)
Cornell's land grant origins, mission, and current review of that mission, including the story of how Ezra Cornell managed the land grant. Mike Whalen's article: Special Topic: The Land-Grant University, in 2001-2002 Financial Plan.

"Land Grant University Missions-Why Bother Now?" (PDF)
Francille M. Firebaugh gave the William Henry Hatch Memorial Lecture for 2002, National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, November 10, 2002. Declining interest in, and attention to, the land grant mission is reflected in decreased funding. The modern land grant university can be relevant to contemporary society; Cornell's programs offer many examples.

National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges
Cornell is one of the 214 members of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges. The nation's oldest higher education association, founded in 1887, NASULGC provides a forum for policies affecting higher education and the public interest.

Cornell Cooperative Extension
A state-wide educational system that enables community improvement through experience and research knowledge.

Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station
As the land grant university for New York State, Cornell University discharges its responsibility for research in the agricultural and related sciences through the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station (CUAES) in Ithaca and the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES) in Geneva. It is the mission of the experiment stations to provide the fundamental knowledge and the research base for sustaining our agriculture and food systems, protecting our environment and natural resources, and improving our communities throughout New York State.

Industrial and Labor Relations Extension
Translates research into resources that are useful for the workplace.