If President Abraham Lincoln were transported to 2012 to evaluate the progress of land-grant institutions, College of Agricultural Sciences Dean Bruce McPheron said he thinks the president would be “amazed” at how many students attend land-grant universities.
On Tuesday in Washington, D.C., Penn State faculty and other land-grant university representatives attended the 2012 APLU Convocation: 150 Years of the Morrill Act: Advancing the Legacy, sponsored by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.
Held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, the convocation’s main purpose is to celebrate the sesquicentennial, discuss the history of land-grant institutions and look ahead to the future.
It featured a number of speakers and included a keynote address from Former Microsoft Chief Executive Officer and co-founder Bill Gates.
Robert Pangborn, interim executive vice president and provost, said Gates spoke about a number of topics, including improving college graduation rates and the advantages of technology and using it to enhance collaboration in education environment.
McPheron said Gates called this “the golden age of innovation,” saying the challenge to meet the needs of the nation’s rising population and solving problems regarding access to nutritional foods really resonated for him.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack also spoke at the event, where Duncan addressed colleges and universities to be more transparent about cost and financial aid options.
“Having easy-to-understand information will help students and families make smarter decisions about higher education,” Duncan said, according to a press release about his speech at the convocation. “We don’t want students and families taking on more debt than they need… Worst of all, we don’t want them deciding they cannot afford college.”
Pangborn said Penn State has a new cost calculator on the Tuition & Financial Aid website to adhere to more transparency in costs for attending the university.
McPheron said rising tuition is a really critical issue, and it drives a lot of need for borrowing by students.
“We need to reset our approaches and join in that openness what it costs for an education,” he said.
Named after the act’s author, Sen. Justin Smith Morrill, the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862 was signed into law by Lincoln.
According to the university’s official website, Penn State was founded in 1855 “as a publicly supported agricultural college.” The university became the commonwealth’s only land-grant institution in 1863.
Craig Weidemann, Vice President for Outreach, said the Morrill Act was implemented amidst the Civil War, adding the effort was a “bold innovation” considering the circumstances.
Weidemann, an APLU board member, said the convocation “exceeded expectations,” making a great celebration for the sesquicentennial.
McPheron said he thinks that Lincoln would be impressed with the fact that 60 percent of students attend land-grant universities, more than any other type of college in the nation.
Last year, Penn State hosted a similar conference over the course of three days in the Nittany Lion Inn honoring the sesquicentennial, where attendees shared ideas on improving land-grant institutions and also discussed the history of the Morrill Act.
McPheron said this year, the College of Agricultural Sciences is planning to recognize the anniversary as part of the annual Ag Progess Days, Pennsylvania’s largest outdoor agricultural exposition.
According to the event’s official website, Ag Progress Days will take place from August 14 to 16.