Agricultural and Mechanical (A&M) Colleges

Postsecondary institutions established to promote the development of the practical arts and sciences.

Agricultural and mechanical (A&M) colleges were formed after the passage of the Morrill Land Grant Act in 1862. Congress granted the states 30,000 acres of federal land for each senator and representative that the state had in the national legislature for the purpose of establishing A&M colleges. The main curriculum would concentrate on agriculture, engineering, and home economics—the practical arts. The act, passed during the Civil War, also required the establishment of a Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) at every land-grant institution. Most of the colleges implemented mandatory participation programs, but after the 1920s, membership in the ROTC became voluntary. Congress expanded the policy of assistance to A&M colleges in 1887 with the passage of the Hatch Act, which made funds available for research and experimental facilities. Additional resources, allocated under the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, extended agricultural and home economics research.

The study and development of a variety of crops and the study of animal husbandry encouraged improved farming techniques, which in turn stimulated the economy through the increase in annual yield. But as farmers exceeded the demands of consumers, prices dropped. Agricultural depressions remained a recurrent theme from the late 1880s through the 1930s until the United States sought markets overseas and implemented domestic policies that included farm subsidies. In recent years, A&M colleges have shifted their emphasis to engineering. As of 1999, more than 10,000 universities and colleges, including 29 Native American tribal institutions, have achieved land-grant status as agricultural and engineering schools.

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