The Curriculum: The Liberal and Practical


An excerpt from Section 4 of The Morrill Act of 1862 listed the purpose of providing federal lands to the states to establish the “Land-Grant” colleges. 

“…to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical educationof the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”


Photo of agricultural engineering students studying equipment, 1958.

Agricultural engineering students study equipment, 1958.

The “liberal” and the “practical” course requirements for a Purdue Agriculture Bachelor’s degree curricula have varied over the years. In 1900, 55 percent of the degree requirements were courses in the life and physical sciences, English and social sciences. Today, 42 percent of the degree requirements are in these areas.

In 1900, there were nine School of Agriculture instructors who offered 20 courses in “agriculture.” In 2010, there were 372 faculty members that offered 658 undergraduate and dual-level courses in “agriculture.”

From the “agriculture” personnel perspective and total Purdue course offerings at the time, having more than half of the 1900 School of Agriculture curriculum devoted to “liberal” components is plausible.

As School of Agriculture academic departments were formed in the early 1900s and faculty numbers increased, it was possible for more “agriculture” courses to be required in the curricula. Applied sciences in “agriculture” replaced some of the general biological and physical sciences.

Departmental faculty had primary control of curricula in their respective departments until the late 1950s when the school’s Agricultural Faculty renovated existing programs and a school “core curriculum” was forged.

In the ensuing years, the “liberal” proportion of the curriculum has varied between 32 and 47 percent.

While several factors may have contributed to the ten percent increase in the “liberal” components of the curriculum from 1981 to 1990, Professor Karl Brandt, Associate Dean and Director of Academic Programs, was a major champion in broadening and strengthening bachelor’s degree requirements.

It should also be noted that in the past 25 years, some courses taught by School of Agriculture faculty were approved to fulfill communication, social science and humanities requirements. Therefore, since 1990, the “liberal” component in the following chart may be somewhat under represented.

In 2012, two factors impacted the adjustment of the College of Agriculture “core curriculum. An Indiana legislative mandate prescribed a 120-credit maximum for baccalaureate degrees and a statewide general education transfer core. College of Agriculture bachelor’s degree requirements were reduced from 130 to 120 credits.

To comply with these legislative mandates, a University Core Curriculum was established, and College of Agriculture programs were adjusted to fulfill these requirements.

It is only in the past six years that the Agricultural Faculty has not had complete control in defining the college’s undergraduate degree requirements.


Liberal and Practical Course Requirements, Bachelor’s Degree, College of Agriculture, Purdue University

Year         Liberal %*       Practical %

1900           55                         45

1917           36                         64

1927           42                         58

1937           41                         59

1947           33                         67

1958           44                         56

1969           32                         68

1981           37                         63

1990           47                         53

2000          46                         54

2012           42                         58

* Liberal % (percent) includes required courses for all Agriculture undergraduates that were taught in academic departments outside of the College of Agriculture.


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