UT-Austin becomes first Texas university to raise $1 billion for student support

The University of Texas tower on July 16, 2020. Credit: Allie Goulding/The Texas Tribune

By Kate McGee, The Texas Tribune

Nearly two years after announcing the largest philanthropic campaign ever undertaken by a Texas university, the University of Texas at Austin said this week it has reached its goal to raise $1 billion to support students.

Administrators said in a press release that the achievement makes UT-Austin the first school in the state and the second public university in the country to receive more than $1 billion in donations that are specifically for supporting undergraduate and graduate students. The sum is part of an overall goal to raise $6 billion, the third largest campaign of any public university in the country.

“Our aspiration of becoming the world’s highest-impact public research university depends on attracting the best students, supporting them and equipping them to go out and change the world,” said President Jay Hartzell in a statement. “That starts with making our world-class University affordable and accessible, and then surrounding our students with the people and programs that enable them to succeed.”

The “What Starts Here” campaign overtook Texas A&M University’s $4 billion campaign as the most ambitious university capital campaign in the state. Texas A&M ended that campaign in 2021 after raising $4.25 billion.

UT-Austin started the “What Starts Here” campaign in 2016. The campaign seeks to boost the university’s research by recruiting top talent and helping students with financial aid, raising at least $3.3 billion between 2016 and 2022.

Two years ago, university administrators publicly announced they wanted to raise the campaign’s fundraising goal to $6 billion, with one-sixth of that money going directly to support students. UT-Austin has raised $4.8 billion so far, with two years left in the campaign.

The university benefits from a large alumni donor base with more than 570,000 former students, according to the Texas Exes alumni group.

Since 2016, nearly 291,000 UT-Austin donors have given money to support nearly 39,000 students, UT-Austin officials said. That includes 9,600 students who have received support through UT for Me, a partnership between the school and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. The UT for Me program offers extra support to low-income students who qualify for federal financial aid.

Overall, donor funding has created more than 1,250 new scholarships and fellowships across the university. According to UT-Austin officials, 80% of students benefit from financial support from the What Starts Here campaign.

Public universities in Texas rely on state funding, tuition and donations to operate. Over the decades, the percentage of funding from the state has fallen from 34% of UT-Austin’s annual budget in the 1990-91 school year to just 10% in 2020-21, forcing the university to seek other means of funding, including private donations. Meanwhile, the university has become increasingly reliant on student tuition, which comprised 9% of its budget three decades ago. It represented 20% of the school’s budget in 2020.

The flagship university also provides a variety of financial assistance to students outside philanthropic support. Students are guaranteed free tuition if their families earn less than $65,000 a year, and the university provides support to students from families who earn up to $125,000 annually. The University of Texas Board of Regents created a $167 million endowment in 2019 to fund the free tuition program.

Financial aid and additional support have become increasingly vital for students in recent years as the cost of living has skyrocketed in the Austin area. The university said donors have also played an enhanced role in providing emergency relief to students in recent years. Donors gave more than $3 million to the university’s Student Emergency Fund during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic. And more than 1,600 donors provided money for a five-day emergency fundraising effort after the 2021 February winter storm left many students without power or other necessities.

The Texas Tribune partners with Open Campus on higher education coverage.

Disclosure: Dell, Texas A&M University, Texas Exes and University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/02/01/ut-austin-student-support-campaign/.

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