The Indispensable University: The UW–Madison, Economic Development, and the Knowledge Economy

The Morrill Act of 1862 was a landmark piece of higher education legislation that transformed American society. Also known as the Land-Grant Act, it allowed western states to establish colleges for their citizens and provide a broad segment of the population with a practical education that had direct relevance to the students’ daily lives.

Over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many of the established land-grant colleges grew, with additional state aid, into large public universities, educating millions of Americans who otherwise might not have been able to afford college.

In this talk, Eugene Trani, formerly vice president for academic affairs at the University of Wisconsin System and professor of history at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, will argue that the distinctiveness of land-grant institutions has progressively eroded during the last half of the twentieth century. In this context, he will examine the manner in which a major land-grant university has redefined its historic mission for the challenges of the twenty-first century. He will explore how UW–Madison has modernized “the Wisconsin Idea” to respond to the economic challenges facing a state that has grown at a rate below the national average for the last 25 years.

This talk is based on Trani’s co-authored book, forthcoming from the American Council on Education’s Book Series on Higher Education, published by Rowman & Littlefield.