Legacy: In 1890 Utah State Opened the First Business School West of the Mississippi
By Christine Arrington
On July 2, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the first Morrill Act, authorizing the creation of at least one land-grant college in each state, to make a democratic education “accessible to all, but especially to the sons of toil.” Utah, however, was not a state at the time and wouldn’t win that hard-fought distinction until 1896, after several attempts.
Anthon H. Lund of the Utah Territorial Legislature had traveled to his native Denmark, where he visited a few rural agricultural schools. Upon his return, he heard about the Morrill Act, and proposed that such a college was needed in the Utah Territory. The Lund Act, authorizing formation of a land-grant college, was signed in March 1888.
On the question of location, historian Joel Ricks wrote (in 1938), “Provo had received the Insane Asylum, Salt Lake City had the University and Capitol, and the majority of the legislature felt that the new institutions should be given to Weber and Cache Counties.” The citizens of Logan and Cache County worked together and lobbied the legislature successfully for the honor.
After that, J.E. Shepherd, the cashier of the Cache Valley Banking Company, approached Jeremiah Sanborn, the president of what would become Utah State University, and proposed to him that a School of Commerce and Business Administration be established at the university.
That’s how it happened that, on the first day of classes at USU in 1890—121 years ago this fall—students could begin study toward a two-year degree in commerce and business. At the time, the only four-year business school that existed in the United States was the Wharton School of Commerce and Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, which had opened its doors nine years earlier, in 1881.
The business major proved very popular at Utah State, and the first graduating class of 15 students included eight business majors—more than the other majors combined. The “entrance fee” for the university was $5 per year.
In 1898 the University of California launched a four-year business program. Utah State actually had started a four-year curriculum in business in 1893, but it wasn’t organized as an independent school of business culminating in a Bachelor of Science degree until 1903, just six years after the University of California.
The business training offered at Utah State was highly regarded, very early on. Student Life reported in 1911 that Professor L.C. Marshall of the University of Chicago had spent several months collecting information on the quality of education at several degree-conferring institutions. He concluded that the training in economics courses at USU was “comparable to that given in the best institutions in the country.”