MSU’s status as a land-grant university

MSU administrators take pride in the university’s role as a land-grant institution, but what does that actually mean? Although MSU has expanded since its inception to offer many academic disciplines, it maintains agricultural roots linked to its land-grant status.

The first land-grant universities were established by the Morrill Act of 1862. The purpose of a land-grant institution, as stated in the Morrill Act, is “the endowment, support, and maintenance of at least one college where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such a manner as the legislatures of states may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”

Summarized, the Morrill Act of 1862 is a federal act that intended to make higher education in agriculture, military tactics and mechanical arts, which is essentially engineering, available to members of the working class. The federal government allocated the income from public lands for the formation of universities: one in each state. The amount of funding received by each state was based on its number of representatives and senators in Congress.

In 1887, the Hatch Act was passed, supplementary to the Morrill Act. It provided additional federal funding to establish an agricultural experiment station at each land-grant university, and in 1914, an extension service was added to each land-grant university through the Smith-Lever Act. MSU’s Extension Service provides outreach to communities throughout the state, aiming to extend the benefits of the university to the state as a whole.

Montana became a state in 1889, and in 1892, MSU became the state’s land-grant university. In 1994, land-grant status was extended to tribal colleges as well. In Montana, there are seven tribal colleges which receive federal funding as land-grant institutions: Aahniiih Nakoda College in Harlem, Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Chief Dull Knife College in Lame Deer, Fort Peck Community College in Poplar, Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency, Salish Kootenai College in Pablo and Stone Child College in Box Elder.

Land-grant universities continue to receive federal funding, largely allocated by the United States Department of Agriculture. Some funds are distributed equally to each land-grant university, while others are distributed based on the state’s farming population or overall population. MSU still operates as a land-grant university, aiming to provide education to a broad group of students as recognized in its mission statement: “Montana State University, the State’s land-grant institution, educates students, creates knowledge and art, and serves communities, by integrating learning, discovery, and engagement.”