It has garnered some recent news, not all that much, but 150 years ago, on July 2nd, 1862, President Lincoln signed a bill authored by Representative Justin Morrill of Vermont. Passed and signed during the darkest days of the Civil War, this law granted federally owned or controlled land to the states for the states to use in order to establish "land-grant" colleges. Prior to that time, colleges generally were private, often religious affiliated, and focused on classical liberal arts curricula.
The land-grant colleges had three primary charters: practical agriculture, science and engineering, as well as classical studies. In addition, military training was required of all students. These colleges generally were located in less-developed portions of the states, and served as economic growth engines.
Two of the first land-grant colleges created and opening were Kansas State (9/1863) and Iowa State (3/1864). Some colleges, such as Rutgers, were created earlier (1766), but given land-grant status in 1864. Both Michigan State and Penn State also were created a few years prior to the Morrill Act, but were given land-grant status in 1863. Some of the largest and most comprehensive universities, including The Ohio State University, Texas A&M, the University of Florida, and Virginia Tech were founded as a direct result of the Land-Grant Act. As a rule, these universities are strong in engineering and the sciences, agriculture, and often in medical fields including veterinarian medicine. Most are research powerhouses.
Only two land-grant colleges still maintain a corps of cadets, proud vestiges of the once all-military student bodies: Texas A&M, and Virginia Tech. Both corps enjoy broad student and alumni support and are at the core of a very loyal student and alumni base.
There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States, and only 77 of them were created of granted status under the Morrill Act of 1862. Following that, in 1890, a second Morrill Act was passed and signed. This act was aimed at the former Confederate states and used cash, not land, as the basis for 70 historically black colleges and universities to be designated land-grant status. Later, other colleges including Native American schools were added to the category.
It's hard to argue with the success of the Morrill Land-Grant Act. It has resulted in "the democratization of education," and is one of the most successful public policies in the history of the country.