Community Engagement | History

Land-Grant Colleges to 21st Century Universities:  The Role of Community Engagement

NMSU was founded as a land grant college and will remain a land grant university in spirit and operation in the 21st century, even as it is evolving how it is realized. We are reaching out to more people, communities, and companies.  Our programs are more adaptive, helping you meet emerging challenges and taking advantage of evolving opportunities.  To do that, we listen to and work with communities.  Those are our legacy and the foundation of our future.

The history of land-grant colleges is intertwined with the history of higher education for U.S. citizens of ordinary means. The land-grant system began in 1862 with the Morrill Act. This law gave states public lands provided the lands be sold or used for profit and the proceeds used to establish at least one college—hence, land-grant colleges—that would teach agriculture and the mechanical arts. The legislative mandate for these land-grant colleges helped extend higher education to broad segments of the U.S. population.

The 1862 Morrill Act gave the land-grant colleges their mandate to teach. The colleges acquired a research function in 1887 through the Hatch Act, which recognized the need for original research to support teaching and help develop innovations.

With the 1914 Smith-Lever Act, the colleges took on a third function, called “extension,” which was designed to disseminate knowledge generated by research at land-grant colleges beyond the campuses. Extension was to be a cooperative activity between federal government, states, and county governments.

Building upon the cooperative extension service model of the past century, as a 21st Century University NMSU embraces Community Engagement, at the core of its mission.  Across every college and unit of the institution we strive to serve community needs and play a major role in educational, social, economic and community development throughout the state and beyond. Through learning, scholarship, and engagement NMSU partners with in order to make significant impacts on individuals, companies, and communities, doing so grounded in norms of openness, tolerance for risk, acceptance of diversity, and realization mutual benefit.  NMSU is a caring community committed to changing lives through discovery!

The Carnegie Foundation defines community engagement as,

 the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity. 

The purpose of community engagement is the partnership of college and university knowledge and resources with those of the public and private sectors to enrich scholarship, research and creative activity; enhance curriculum, teaching and learning; prepare educated, engaged citizens; strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility; address critical societal issues; and contribute to the public good.”

– Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

Community engagement is an integral component of NMSU’s land-grant mission as demonstrated by inclusion in the institutions Vision 2020 Strategic Plan. Community engagement involves the application of knowledge and skills in a context of partnership and reciprocity beyond the campus walls and makes discoveries useful beyond the academic community.