UT System Regent and Alumnus Steve Hicks Gifts School of Social Work $25 Million

On Sept. 6, UT Austin President Greg Fenves announced that the School of Social Work had some “big news,” which would be delivered in an outdoor ceremony that afternoon at the foot of the school’s front steps.

Flanked by members of the Longhorn Band and a sprawling, burnt-orange backdrop, Fenves took the stage and announced that UT System Regent R. Steven “Steve” Hicks, BA ’72, had pledged $25 million to the School of Social Work. In gratitude, the university has renamed it after Hicks.

Following the announcement, the school’s social media accounts buzzed with activity; one Facebook video released shortly thereafter was captioned: “This is going to help a lot of Longhorns change the world.” That night, the tower was lit in honor of the newly minted Steve Hicks School of Social Work.

“By investing in our social work students, Steve Hicks is investing in a fabric that binds communities together. Social work students commit to dedicate their lives to service and enriching the lives of others,” Fenves said. “In return, UT commits to support them thanks to Steve Hicks’ generous philanthropy.”

Hicks was keen on giving back to his alma mater. After growing a successful broadcasting business over the course of a couple decades, he moved into private equity and eventually joined the UT Board of Regents in 2009. In an interview with the Austin American-Statesman, he said he wanted to bestow this lifetime gift on a UT school with significant social impact. “It really wasn’t that hard to figure out which one helps people the most,” he said.

The decision was also personal: social workers had helped his mother before she died and aided him in his long-term recovery from alcoholism.

According to UT officials, the gift ranks among the highest ever to be donated to a public university’s social work school.

“Mr. Hicks knows that social workers provide critical services across the life span and across social and economic lines. Thanks to his generosity, more individuals regardless of socioeconomic background will be able to respond to their social work calling,” School of Social Work Dean Luis H. Zayas said in a news release.

By Hicks’ estimate, the average social work graduate enters the workforce with about $45,000 worth of student debt. He said that the amount of people —about 1,000—a social worker helps during his or her career, combined with the school’s annual class size of roughly 200 students, means that his gift could potentially help up to 200,000 people each year. $10 million will be directed toward the establishment of a permanent endowment to support student scholarships, coupled with an additional $5 million to be used as matching funds to incentivize more donations. The balance will be used to enhance the school’s education programs in addiction, fundraising, and philanthropy.

Amber Perry is a member of the inaugural Steve Hicks Scholars cohort. She started graduate school this month, works full-time, and is still grappling with student loans from her undergrad years at UT. She plans on going into gerontology social work after graduation and is already working in the field.

The award came as a complete surprise the day of the announcement. She said she and other Hicks Scholarship recipients started crying. ” It was a very crazy day. It’s a huge weight off my back. I can focus more on studying rather than balancing my checkbook,” she says, adding that the gift also gave the School of Social Work the recognition that it deserved.

Hicks, opining that social work is “God’s work,” hopes his donation will help defray tuition costs, reduce student debt, provide scholarships and financial aid, boost research and teaching, and underwrite new programs. The school added that the gift would cement its standing as a nationwide top 10 graduate program in social work.

Assistant Dean for Master’s Programs and clinical associate professor Sarah Swords said the gift will also dramatically impact recruitment and admissions efforts, allowing UT to compete on a national level for the best and brightest social work students. “My sense is that Mr. Hicks’s transformative investment in our school will increase our school’s reach and influence in ways that we can’t yet foresee,” she says.

Photo by Marsha Miller.


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