UT Alumni Advocate for Higher Ed at Fourth Annual Longhorns on the Hill

Around nearly every corner of the bustling U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, Sept. 5, from the Rayburn building to Longworth, you could spot burnt orange. For the fourth-annual Longhorns on the Hill, UT President Greg Fenves, Texas Exes Executive Director Chuck Harris, BBA ’86, Life Member, and small groups of Texas Exes advocates spent a full day speed-walking through the halls of the Capitol, darting between 30 meetings held with members of the Texas delegation. Whether through a lengthy sit-down around a long table in a congressional office, a hallway chat, or even an impromptu mid-committee hearing meeting with Rep. Lloyd Dogget, BBA ’67, JD ’70, Life Member, UT alumni made their voices heard about the value of higher eduction.

“It’s important to be loud not just on gameday,” says Debra McKeown, BJ ’86, Life Member, who has attended Longhorns on the Hill every year since it began in 2015. “Having worked on the Hill myself, I understand that members and their staff have a tremendous amount of issues demanding their focus. We need to help them understand how they can help UT continue its mission to be a university of the first class.”

One way advocates feel that legislators can help further that mission? By increasing federal dollars for research at public universities. Research from UT Austin brings in more than $724 million to the Texas economy. And, as Fenves told a full house at the Longhorns on the Hill Congressional Breakfast Wednesday morning, that research—like the MassSpec Pen, a breakthrough device that can detect cancerous tissue in real time—is changing the world.

And yet, funding for higher education continues to decline. In 2013, UT Austin received around 73 percent of its research funding from federal sources—by 2015, only 56 percent of research funding came from federal sources. At Longhorns on the Hill, advocates specifically asked lawmakers to increase money to federal agencies like the National Science Foundation (NSF)—who announced in August a grant that will position UT to have the fastest supercomputer at any U.S. university and pave the way for important discoveries in all fields of science—and the National Institutes of Health, whose funding made the MassSpec Pen a reality.

Texas Exes advocates meet with U.S. Rep. Brian Babin.

Texas Exes president Nancy Seliger, Executive Director Chuck Harris, and advocates meet with U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry

Longhorn and U.S. Rep Lloyd Doggett meets with UT Student Body President Colton Becker













“It was developed at UT?” U.S. Representative Brian Babin excitedly asked about the pen during one of the first meetings of the day. “I hadn’t heard of that!” It’s exactly those kind of connective moments that make the event so valuable, says advocate Katie Jarl, BJ ’07, Life Member.

“There are Longhorn legislators on both sides of the aisle and, for at least a day, we were able to walk into those offices wearing our burnt orange and individually share our commitment to keeping Texas great,” Jarl says. “It’s a great source of pride for us to share with these members on the Hill about our incredible impact on the Texas economy, our ground-breaking research developments, and our superior student experience.”

Other talking points included a universal charitable deduction in the tax plan, and adequate funding for federal student financial aid programs, like Pell Grants. UT Student Body president Colton Becker, a Pell Grant recipient himself, shared his personal story with advocates at the Congressional Breakfast and with legislators throughout the day. “Investing in higher education is an investment in future changemakers,” Becker says.

The national median debt for undergraduate students is $37,172—for UT Austin students, it’s $26,000. Helping curb the rising cost of college and investing in public universities, advocates stressed to lawmakers, is what allows those alumni—or in Becker’s words, “changemakers”—to bring economic innovation back to their communities.

Of course, as you would expect of any group of Longhorns gathered on a fall day, there was football talk, too. “What is happening on our campus is fantastic, and athletics is the front porch,” Athletics Director Chris Del Conte said during his Congressional Breakfast keynote address. “How we’re going to put the T back in Texas is going to be in this room.” Twelve hours later, at a cocktail reception featuring Shiner beer, queso, and Blue Bell ice cream, the Texas Exes advocates toasted to a successful day of work doing just that.


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