Land Grant

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 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.


Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU)
Cornell is one of the 236 members of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU). The nation's oldest higher education association, founded in 1887, APLU is dedicated to advancing learning, discovery, and engagement.

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 Outreach
Translates research into resources that are useful for the workplace.

Contact Us

Vice Provost

Judith A. Appleton

Administrative Assistant

Tiffany Howe

Postal Mail

449 Day Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853