Everything’s Bigger in Texas (Including Our Hearts)

In the spring of 1917, Texas Governor Pa Ferguson vetoed The University of Texas’ legislative appropriation because then-UT president Robert Vinson refused to fire certain faculty members. Despite being bitter rivals, Major George Littlefield and Colonel George Brackenridge, two of the University’s most fervent supporters, announced that they were prepared to fund its operations from their own private fortunes. Their devotion, and a loud student and alumni outcry, led to Ferguson’s impeachment.

For as long as The University of Texas at Austin has existed, the generosity of donors has been central to making UT-Austin a top-tier institution with real ambition. Today all colleges and universities depend on financial support from alumni and friends. If UT-Austin is to remain competitive, at this time when our state education budget is shrinking and more people seek to attend college, philanthropic assistance is critical.

The University of Texas at Austin happens to be in year seven of an eight-year effort to raise $3 billion. That is a three with nine zeros behind it. How are we doing? The University has raised $2 billion since 2006. That’s an average of $300 million per year, about the same amount as the state’s annual general-revenue appropriation. Four of the top five best years in giving to UT-Austin have occurred during the present effort, what is aptly called the Campaign for Texas. If all goes as planned, UT-Austin will reach the $3 billion mark by the fall of 2014—and during a time of nearly unprecedented economic turmoil in our nation.

There are a lot of numbers, and a lot of really big numbers, but the big picture is this: Texans should take pride in their support of UT-Austin. Of the 234,000 people who have given to the Campaign for Texas, 123,000 are alumni. Some 30 percent of living alumni have contributed to the Campaign for Texas, and of those donors 37 percent gave for the first time. It is also worth mentioning that 90 percent of all gifts were for less than $1,000.

Perhaps an even more telling tribute to how deeply Texans believe in UT’s value to the state is the fact that 43 percent of donors are non-alumni. That ranks UT-Austin among the top public universities in the country in support from non-graduates. This outpouring is in part what has allowed UT to be recognized as one of the nation’s best values in higher education and one of the state’s most meaningful and far-reaching investments. Every state dollar invested in UT-Austin results in $18 to the Texas economy.

The old adage about putting your money where your mouth is certainly rings true in this case. Texans are voting with their wallets that UT-Austin is an investment worth making. If they were around to see it, Littlefield and Brackenridge would be proud.

John Beckworth
President, Texas Exes


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