Texas A&M is the state’s first public institution of higher education. With a current student body of more than 50,000 and a physical campus of more than 5,200 acres, Texas A&M is also among the nation’s largest universities. Its origins, however, were much humbler. Texas A&M owes its origin to the Morrill Act, approved by the United States Congress on July 2, 1862. This act provided for donation of public land to the states for the purpose of funding higher education, whose “leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and mechanic arts.”
The State of Texas agreed to create a college under the terms of the Morrill Act in November 1866, but actual formation didn’t come until the establishment of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas by the Texas state legislature on April 17, 1871. A commission created to locate the institution accepted the offer of 2,416 acres of land from the citizens of Brazos County in 1871, and instruction began in 1876. Admission was limited to white males, and, as required by the Morrill Act, all students were required to participate in military training.
A Time of Change
Texas A&M underwent many changes in the 1960s under the presidency of Gen. James Earl Rudder. Under his tenure the college diversified and began admitting women and minorities. Participation in the Corps of Cadets was also made voluntary. In 1963 the Texas state legislature officially renamed the school to Texas A&M University, with the “A” and “M” being a symbolic link to the school’s past but no longer officially standing for “Agricultural and Mechanical”.
Since that time Texas A&M has flourished and has become one of the nation’s premier research universities. Along with the University of Texas and Rice, it is one of only three Tier 1 universities in the state. In 1971 and 1989 respectively, Texas A&M was designated as a Sea Grant and a Space Grant institution, making it among the first four universities to hold the triple distinction of Land Grant, Sea Grant, and Space Grant designations.
While membership in the Corps of Cadets became voluntary in 1965, it has nonetheless continued to play a key role in the university. The Corps is often referred to as the “Keepers of the Spirit” and “Guardians of Tradition.” Texas A&M remains one of only six senior military colleges, and the Corps is the largest uniformed body outside the national service academies. As such it has historically produced more officers than any other institution in the nation other than the academies.
The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum opened in 1997 on West Campus, making Texas A&M one of only a few universities to host a presidential library on their campus. President Bush maintains an active role in the university, hosting and participating in special events organized through the Library.