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While many articles have been written about land-grant universities (LGUs) and their tripartite mission, the objective of this article is to place that mission within a broad historical overview of the role of engagement within LGUs, to familiarize readers with the influence of engagement on higher education, and to discuss the important role of Cooperative Extension as the LGUs’ key mode of connection with stakeholder communities. With the passage of the Morrill Act of 1862, Congress created a national system of LGUs that made public higher education available and affordable to the American working class, with a focus on agriculture, mechanical arts, and military science. Subsequent congressional legislation firmly established LGUs’ tripartite mission of teaching, research, and extension. Later, Extension was included in the broader engagement missions of LGUs. However, the characterizations of this broader notion of university engagement were often obscure and lacked clarity, with no agreed-upon framework for assessment. Reports from the Kellogg Commission in 1999 and subsequently the Carnegie Foundation in 2005 helped to define, clarify, and socialize meaningful university engagement. With common criteria established, it became obvious that LGU leaders must align their engagement resources toward the common goal of deepening engagement to address important societal issues. It also became evident that for Cooperative Extension to be recognized as an engaged organization within the university mission, it must constantly evolve to stay current with the scholarship of engagement, embrace transdisciplinary practices, and focus on the public value created when universities and their community partners find common ground on what matters to academics, practitioners, administrators, elected officials, and community members. The benefits of an aligned set of engagement resources can only be realized if strategy, investment, and incentives reinforce a commitment to engagement.


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20 Jul 2022
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  • Alternative title
    • Harnessing Potential

  • Journal title
    • Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship

  • Volume
    • 14

  • Issue
    • 3

  • Date submitted

    20 July 2022

  • License