In 2013, UT-Austin generated $8.8 billion for the Texas economy. That’s a 15-to-1 return on the state’s $575-million investment.
Despite brag-worthy statistics like these, public funding for higher education continues to decline at the state level. One especially gloomy study predicted that if cuts continue at the same pace, state support for higher education will be zero by 2059. Meanwhile, federal support has picked up some of the slack, particularly in the form of Pell Grants, which can ease the debt burden for low-income students. Higher education funding makes up just 2 percent of the federal budget, but that money is crucial for scientific research, financial aid, military veterans’ education benefits, and more. Its future is in question, with some legislators proposing cuts and freezes.
That’s why 26 UT alumni headed to Washington, D.C. on Wednesday for the inaugural Longhorns on the Hill. Hosted by the Texas Exes’ UT Advocates program, the event was designed to boost federal support for UT-Austin, for Texas, and for higher education generally. Small groups of volunteers visited 17 Congressional offices to speak with legislators from Texas and their staffers about why they should invest in higher ed. It was the first national iteration of a similar event that Texas Exes and Texas A&M’s Association of Former Students have been co-hosting at the state level for seven years.
June Deadrick, BA ’95, Life Member, was one of several volunteers who flew in from Texas for the day.
“If we don’t talk about these issues, who will?” Deadrick says. “Right now, I’m speaking on a cell phone, and the battery inside it was invented by a researcher at UT-Austin. Without the grants that funded his research, I wouldn’t be talking with you.”
In addition to basic research funding, other priorities for the day were budget certainty—the hope that Congress can reach a budget deal and avoid another shutdown—and continued funding for Pell Grants, work-study programs, and other financial aid.
Alumni weren’t the only leaders at the event. Students at the Archer Center, UT-Austin’s D.C. campus, also shared their personal experiences with legislators. Senior government major Michael Pearson, an Archer Fellow planning a career in public affairs, spoke with legislative staffers about what the Pell Grant has meant to him. “I am a Pell Grant recipient, and between that and other aid, I’m going to graduate debt-free,” Pearson says. “So I talked about that, and I talked about how the diversity of UT has been really important to me. It was a really positive experience.”
UT president Greg Fenves and Texas Exes CEO and executive director Leslie Cedar also made the rounds, with one senator tweeting that he and Fenves discussed UT System priorities and, of course, “a little football.”
Longhorns on the Hill concluded with an evening reception at the Flying Bridge restaurant, where VIPs met and mingled over Shiner beer and barbecue.
Below, see some social media highlights from the day:
Photo by vgm8383 on Flickr
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