Texas Exes Hosts National Advocacy Conference

IMG_1346It’s no secret that state funding to public colleges and universities has been trickling away in legislatures across the country. But for all the doom-and-gloom headlines about the challenges facing higher education, there’s a story that doesn’t get told nearly as often: how alumni are pitching in to support their schools.

Enter the Texas Exes and its UT Advocates, a group of alumni who volunteer to promote and protect UT. That can mean everything from meeting legislators at the Capitol for Orange & Maroon Legislative Day to personally calling admitted students to talk with them about UT to simply staying informed on UT issues by reading the Advocates Newsletter. And last week, it meant hosting the preeminent national conference in the field.

The 7th-annual PHELAP (Public Higher Education Legislative Advocacy) conference was held July 23-25 on the Forty Acres, and it brought together 46 professionals from 30 leading universities across the country. Through lectures, workshops, and, of course, delicious barbecue, attendees exchanged ideas about what works and what doesn’t in higher ed advocacy.

Among the many speakers were UT president Bill Powers, Texas Tribune editor-in-chief Evan Smith, and Texas Exes president Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, LLB ’67, BA ’92, Life Member, Distinguished Alumna. While each had their own perspective, the unifying message was the same: Higher education needs advocates now more than ever.

“The importance for alumni to engage, support their institutions, and talk about the value of higher education has never been greater,” says Daniel Becka, Texas Exes advocacy director and conference host. “That was a major theme.”

Becka says the greatest challenge for him and his colleagues is getting more alumni to join the effort. With civic participation low across the country, plus a general lack of awareness about what legislative advocacy means, messaging and marketing is vitally important. Luckily, the conference left the advocates with no shortage of ideas.

“It left me feeling energized,” says Becka. “To see that more and more universities are coming on board with advocacy programs, and to know that we face a lot of the same challenges, was just tremendously energizing.”

PHELAP attendees pose in front of the Tower. Photo courtesy Braydon Jones.

 

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