Land-grant mission marries past and future education needs

By Tony Frank, Chancellor, CSU System
March 15, 2021

THIS NATION’S HISTORY began with one of the greatest human experiments: to see if individuals could self-govern. We’re still testing the limits on that one, but so far, we have a couple hundred years of evidence that it’s possible. About a hundred years into that first experiment with democracy, we embarked on another: public higher education. It was a radical concept at the time to consider making a college education available to anyone, regardless of economic status, who had the commitment and ability to earn a degree.

Instrumental in launching this second experiment were Senator Justin Morrill and President Abraham Lincoln. Standing in a teetering economy, with the echoes of war barely faded from their ears, they made the following suppositions:

  • That democracy would succeed only with educated citizens.
  • That a successful economy, spread out across the vast physical space of America and adaptable to future changes, needed an educated workforce at all levels.
  • That the fabric of society would be strengthened by inclusion of teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other professionals in all of our communities.
  • And that the best way to attain this was for everyone to contribute to helping fi nance the cost of these educations, because what is returned to us by these soon-to-be graduates will be far more than what we have invested.

Their vision led to the creation of land-grant universities, like Colorado State, that have a specific mission to serve society as a whole through accessible education, basic and applied research, and outreach that puts this research and knowledge to work for people and communities. In Colorado, that experiment launched Feb. 11, 1870, with the creation of CSU – now a System of three universities all bound by their commitment to access, scholarship, and innovation.

Every February, we celebrate these events with Founders Day, and our flagship campus awards the Founders Day Medal to someone who has had a transformative impact on CSU and higher education. This year, the medal went to a man who embodies the land-grant mission, Professor Emeritus John Matsushima.

Black and white photo of a man wearing a cowboy hat.
John Matsushima is pictured when he was named 2013 Citizen of the West; he recently celebrated his 100th birthday. Photo: National Western Stock Show

I’ve always used the model that food plus water equals life. Those three words are very powerful. Those three things encouraged my research in order to improve the life span of human beings.

— Professor Emeritus John Matsushima

Johnny – the founder of Ag Day, 2013 Citizen of the West, longtime CSU professor – grew up one of seven children on a family farm in Platteville, with no indoor plumbing and often not enough food to go around. He worked hard in 4-H and then as a student at CSU, obtaining his degrees in 1943 and 1945 – not an easy time for someone of Japanese ancestry in America. Over the years, his research into cattle feeds went on to transform global agriculture and the global cattle industry. In December, he celebrated his 100th birthday. (Happy birthday, my friend!)

Every year, 60,000 students attend classes at our CSU campuses. And among them are countless people who, like Johnny, will seize the education they’re offered and use it to improve the lives and well-being of people worldwide.

Our first CSU Systemwide economic impact study, released just a few weeks ago, revealed that one in 25 people in Colorado’s workforce is a CSU alumnus, and our graduates are using their talents to strengthen state industries and communities. What’s more, our campuses multiply the funding they receive from the state in ways that add significant value to Colorado – in taxes paid by our graduates, student spending in local businesses, innovation that fuels competitiveness, and thousands of public- and private-sector jobs.

This issue of STATE magazine tells some of those stories, and how we are continuing to invest in students in ways that keep our access mission strong and competitive. That’s particularly important given the impact we know the COVID-19 pandemic is having nationwide on low-income students and their college aspirations. The CSU System is determined to prevent this pandemic from deterring those dreams.

This issue also chronicles work at our new Spur campus – less than a year away from opening – and efforts around the state that are taking our outreach, research, and access missions in new directions. As we celebrated CSU’s founding this spring, we really celebrated both our history and the dawn of an exciting new era of impact and innovation.

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Photo at top: Joe A. Mendoza / Colorado State University