Paying It Forward

How the Texas Exes became a scholarship powerhouse.

The word “ex” can be profoundly misleading. For Texas Exes members, The University of Texas is not a bygone experience—it’s a living, breathing commitment. A great university like UT faces different challenges in different times, and throughout its history the Association has rallied members to do for the University what it could not do for itself. The scholarship program grew out of a need to reach the brightest students who may have otherwise been left behind.

As the Texas Exes celebrates the second class of the game-changing Forty Acres Scholars Program, it’s worth taking a look back at how the Association’s giving program came to be. The Texas Exes scholarship program goes back more than 114 years. In the beginning, the need was straightforward: how to make it possible for every student who wanted a university education to receive one? Early members of the Texas Exes endeavored to create a large student-loan fund for that purpose.

Through the years, members have continued to recognize the pivotal role the University has played in their own lives by creating scholarships to help students from all over the world experience the same first-class education. The Association’s unique and ever-evolving scholarship program awards about $2 million a year to almost 700 students.

An early scholarship founded in 1966 was called the “Return of the Favor.” The Association matched various scholarships given by clubs, then asked recipients to repay them after graduation when they could afford to.

Texas Exes chapters around the country became fundraising machines. Through events— like student-faculty mixers, dinners, auctions, lectures, and chili cook-offs—the chapters have joined forces to raise money for their hometown students.  In 1988, 70 participating chapters gave scholarships to 185 students. In the 2012-13 academic year, chapters awarded 336 students with $449,095.

‘Yes’ is the response that scholars will often hear, ‘Yes, try it. Yes, I’ll connect you. Yes, come see me. Yes, we’ll recommend you. [The Forty Acres Scholars Program] is student services on steroids.”

Chris Hardesty, BBA ’08, vice president of scholarships for the Texas Exes Dallas Chapter, says that over the past 25 years, the chapter has given $1 million to more than 400 students in the Dallas area. “Our scholarship committee is trying to take it to the next level,” Hardesty says. “People are really starting to understand the impact they have on these students’ lives.”

A major turning point for the scholarship program came in 1996. That year, the U.S. Fifth Circuit ruled in Hopwood v. Texas that an admissions policy at The University of Texas School of Law that factored in race was illegal. As a result, UT was no longer allowed to use affirmative action in admissions.

Larry Temple, BBA ’57, LLB ’59, Life Member, Texas Exes President from 1997-98, asked alumni to step in, and the Association in turn asked key private donors to help do what the University could not: target minorities. Among the donors were Joe, BA ’51, LLB ’58, and Teresa Lozano Long, BS ’48, MEd ’51, EdD ’65, Life Members, Austin philanthropists who have given millions to the development of education, arts, and culture throughout Texas.

In response to the Hopwood verdict, the first Texas Leader Scholarships were awarded in 1998 to 134 recipients for a total of $837,125. In the years since, Hispanic and African-American UT students have received 1,520 Texas Leader Scholarships totaling more than $10.7 million.

“The students that I’ve been particularly impressed by,” Joe Long observes, “are from very small communities. The fact that they have been able to come to the University is outstanding. Even though they come from small schools, they do very well.”

Teresa Lozano Long, formerly a health and physical-education teacher in Alice, Texas, says, “Working with minority students and knowing that they had no hope of ever dreaming of going to college really has created an interest to help students.”

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court abrogated Hopwood with its decision in Grutter v. Bollinger. Since then, UT has reintroduced a new admissions policy that considers race as part of a holistic review. The battle over affirmative action continues with Fisher v. The University of Texas, currently before the Supreme Court.

In many ways, the Forty Acres Scholars Program is the culmination of the tireless work of the Association. UT’s first full-ride, merit-based scholarship focuses on connecting the University’s most talented students with distinguished faculty and alumni. The program’s emphasis on community and stewardship was passed on from its predecessor, the Texas Excellence Awards for Scholarship and Leadership, first endowed in 1982 by Lowell Lebermann and Mike Myers. They had a vision of a program that would appeal to elite Texas high school students.

Generous alumni like the Longs and chapters like Dallas have endowed Forty Acres Scholarships. Having played a huge role in the scholarship program’s history, alumni see the enormous potential in this innovative scholarship.

Ann Howard, BA ’85, MPA ’88, JD ’88, Life Member, who has been involved in creating the program’s content, says that with this scholarship, “yes” is the response that scholars will most often hear. “‘Yes, try it. Yes, I’ll connect you. Yes, come see me. Yes, we’ll recommend you.’ It’s student services on steroids, with a focus on engaging the experiences of alumni with the curiosity of scholars.”

Students and donors ultimately get the same thing from the Texas Exes scholarship program: flexibility. Many funds are University-wide—the money can be applied to any college or program at UT. Donor and scholars are able to focus on their unique needs and goals, while benefitting from a full-service program that nurtures the donor-scholar relationship before and after a student’s time on the Forty Acres.

The Texas Exes has been working toward the ideal scholarship from the very beginning—one that lives up to the promise of the University and cultivates future leaders and guardians of higher education. The combined power of matching, named, and chapter scholarships, and the Forty Acres Scholars Program is making generations of dreams come true.

Photo by Brett Bowlin.

 

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