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WVU launches nation’s first center to study land-grant institutions

WVU Today

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It’s been 155 years since land-grant higher education was born in the throes of the Civil War, and while the institution is as strong as ever, education itself has changed, prompting West Virginia University to create the Center for the Future of Land-Grant Education.

The Center, the nation’s first devoted to the study of land-grants, will launch on Thursday (Sept. 28) with a panel of higher education experts. The event will take place at 4 p.m. at the Erickson Alumni Center.

“As the country was battling itself, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act of 1862, creating land-grant higher education institutions, which I believe was perhaps the greatest single piece of legislation ever enacted and an important catalyst to the future growth of the republic,” said WVU President Gordon Gee, who will introduce the panel.

In addition to WVU, where he has been president twice, Gee has also served twice as president of The Ohio State University, one of the nation’s largest land-grants.

The panel comprises Steven Gavazzi, dean and director of Ohio State-Mansfield; Roger L. Geiger, professor emeritus and head of the higher education program at Pennsylvania State University; and William Doyle, associate professor of public policy and higher education at Vanderbilt University.

The Center will be housed at the WVU College of Education and Human Services and serve as a hub for researchers interested in addressing the challenge of providing an accessible public higher education in the wake of decreased public funding and a palpable disconnect between higher education and the people.

“Through the Center, we will advance land-grant institutions in our state and nation and to be a leading voice in shaping the future of higher education,” said CEHS Dean Gypsy Denzine. “The potential for the Center to influence higher education research and policy and to reconnect universities with the public is enormous. We look forward to what lies ahead.”

Nathan M. Sorber, a prominent land-grant movement scholar and assistant professor and coordinator of WVU’s higher education administration program, will head the Center.

Sorber, whose book titled “The Morrill Act in the Era of Yankeedom: A History of the Origins and Early Years of the Land-Grant Colleges” will be published in the spring, notes the significant role that WVU has played in the nation’s land-grant movement.

“It just makes sense that WVU should be the place that is leading the national dialogue on the future of land-grant institutions,” Sorber said. “More than most, WVU centers its identity around its land-grant mission.”

Sorber is joined by Erin McHenry-Sorber and Rodney Hughes, both assistant professors in the higher education administration program. McHenry-Sorber, who specializes in the relationship between rural communities and schools, is currently investigating Appalachian women’s access to higher education. Hughes is an educational economist who examines both student access to higher education and university governance.

“Each of us is asking slightly different questions around the same research topics, which gives us the ability to have a much more robust picture, in the end, of what’s happening in higher education,” McHenry-Sorber said.

Moving forward, the Center will publish an annual report with data highlighting the state of land-grant systems by examining factors such as financial access, engagement, faculty and students. Sorber and his team will analyze and contextualize this data with the hope of positioning the report as an important resource for higher education leaders and attracting top scholars to the Center.

“The Center is a magnet for researchers interested in public higher education, access and the land-grant mission,” Sorber said. “I think we’re going to develop a niche in producing future faculty, policy workers and senior administrators with a unique understanding of public higher education issues.”

The Future of Land-Grant Education Panel is free and open to the public. Those who are interested in attending should RSVP at

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