The Big Picture: Pursuing the Very Best

 

The Forty Acres Scholars Program aims to attract top students by connecting them with alumni.

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In 1899, just 14 years after 32 University of Texas alumni founded the Texas Exes, the association gave away its first scholarship. It’s telling that of all the ways those young alumni thought to support their alma mater, one of the first they chose was to help future students afford to attend. Back then, while trains were the main method of transportation and books were as expensive as room and board, it was surely just as thrilling to open up a letter from the alumni association and see a check that could mean the difference between attending college and staying home.

This fall, 126 years later, the Texas Exes will award a record $3.45 million in scholarships to UT students. Some of those scholarships consider financial need, while many others are strictly merit-based. At various times in the university’s history, the association has emphasized one or the other in response to conditions on the campus and what was most needed. A decade ago, the Texas Exes began hearing from the various honors programs on campus that they were having a harder and harder time attracting top students. After some investigation, the causes became clear: Decreasing state support forced UT to stop automatically awarding National Merit Finalists with scholarships, and other schools around the country were trying to poach top students with more attractive financial offers.

Recognizing that top students are much like free agents in sports, in 2008 the Texas Exes launched the Forty Acres Scholars Program. The full-ride, merit-based program was modeled on similar top-flight scholarships, like the Morehead-Cain at UNC and the Jefferson Scholars at UVA. The first class of Forty Acres Scholars arrived on campus in 2011, and at this May’s commencement the program’s first graduates entered the ranks of alumni. From its inception, the program intended to make use of the university’s vast alumni network to enrich the experience of scholars, and it has done so. But we have much more we can and will be doing to make good on the promise we make to students that coming to UT and the Forty Acres Scholars Program can prepare them for their careers.

In my previous column, I wrote that mentoring is one of my major initiatives as president. As we welcome the fifth class of Forty Acres Scholars this fall, we will be calling on alumni more than ever to help us shape these promising young students. As the cost of college continues to rise, what alumni have done to make the program financially attractive has been critical. But as these scholars begin their careers, what may matter most are the mentors and professional connections that we as University of Texas alumni can deliver. We will be calling on donors and members of our giving societies to mentor Forty Acres Scholars. If you are interested in supporting the program, please consider joining the Forty Acres Society. Many Texas Exes chapters host events that support the Forty Acres Scholars Program, so find out what is going on in your local chapter, and attend an event or fundraiser in your area. If you’d like to know more about the program and the various scholarships the Texas Exes offers, visit texasexes.org.

Saludos, and hook ’em,

Antonio Garza
President, Texas Exes

Above: A 1923 meeting of student organizers of the “For Texas, I Will” fundraising campaign, which solicited alumni donations for the construction of Memorial Stadium.

 

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