Land-grant System for the Digital Age


Time for a Digital-Cyber Land Grant System

Mark Hagerott, the author of “Time for a Digital-Cyber Land Grant System” (Issues, Winter 2010), has been pioneering this disruptive and timely idea for some time. It is exciting to see that he is getting traction with peers.

Perhaps I am biased as a native of Vermont, which was home to Senator Justin Morrill, the founder of the land-grant college concept more than 150 years ago. But be that as it may, the Digital-Cyber Land Grant concept is a “big idea” whose time has come.

Morrill’s concept solved an emerging problem. It took abundant land and committed it to practical higher education: higher education that would strengthen the countryside, its people, and its core economic activity, farming, all the while supporting and generating intellectual and economic activity. Today, the United States has a different problem. Hagerott identified a supreme irony in the digital revolution: namely, that when it comes to higher education and economic development, the abundant information and technology available everywhere comes with an intrinsic but powerful bias that favors cities and more highly populated areas.

Expressed more darkly, rural America is being left out in the cold when it comes to the “new economy.” The human, intellectual, and skill resources needed to support learning and work in the digital age are clustering in urban and suburban areas. And with the demand for these resources vastly exceeding supply, rural America and its universities are losing this tug-of-war and control over their economic future.

So although the circumstances and the drivers are dramatically different from those to which Morrill’s legislation responded, the need for a Digital-Cyber Land Grant initiative is as critical today as Morrill’s land grants were in 1867.

Especially exciting to me is the core opportunity that the Digital-Cyber Land Grant concept represents: dramatic change in the ways that higher education is delivered across the country and throughout life to all who want it. Morrill’s legislation reframed the nation’s vision of higher education away from the elites and toward the general population spread across the countryside. Today we stand at a similar crossroads. But questions remain:

  • Are there innovative universities that are willing to band together and create this network of opportunity?
  • Are there visionary legislators at the state and federal level willing to alter tax laws and spending priorities to encourage this kind of development?
  • Are there innovative businesses and nonprofits willing to share in the work, the risk, and the reward of developing the digital-cyber concept without trying to dominate it?
  • Will one size fit all? Or will multiple models connected by common characteristics be the order of the day?

If we seize this opportunity, the twenty-first century land grant movement will further level the opportunity playing field for all, making education and economic opportunity available to most people, throughout life, and on their own terms, regardless of where they live.

Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Officer
University of Maryland Global Campus

Cite this Article

“Land-grant System for the Digital Age.” Issues in Science and Technology 36, no. 3 (Spring 2020).

Vol. XXXVI, No. 3, Spring 2020