Funding a Future

As the endowment builds, so does TCU’s reach to improve the world.

Illustration by Kate Forrester

Funding a Future

As the endowment builds, so does TCU’s reach to improve the world.

Edmundo Esparza ’23 MD credits the Anita and Kelly Cox Endowed Scholarship, a $12,000 award, with enabling him to graduate as part of the first class of medical students at the Anne Burnett Marion School of Medicine at TCU.

“This award,” Esparza said, “which is one of the biggest scholarships offered to medical students, gave me a huge psychological boost.”

The award gave him breathing room financially, too. Throughout his four years in medical school, Esparza would occasionally drive for Uber when his loans didn’t cover his expenses.

Eight weeks before graduating, Esparza learned he had matched to his top choice for residency, a prestigious internal medicine program at the University of California, San Diego.

Edmundo Esparza said the $12,000 Anita and Kelly Cox Endowed Scholarship gave him a “psychological boost” as he completed his medical degree at TCU’s Anne Burnett School of Medicine. Photo by Glen E. Ellman

“I can’t tell you how grateful I am to TCU and the people who invested in my education through the endowment,” Esparza said.

The story of TCU’s endowment isn’t simply about a pool of money that ensures the university’s survival. Those who oversee the endowment emphasize how the money changes lives.

Starting Small

TCU’s endowment was established in 1910 during a campaign that went on to raise $55,000.

Much like a mutual fund, the endowment grows or shrinks according to the performance of its investments. The university funds endowed scholarships and salaries out of the endowment’s investment income and capital gain, a strategy that safeguards the original gift.

“ ‘Endowment’ is the key word to the campaign,” wrote Colby Hall, the dean of the university from 1920 to 1943. “Resting awhile from brick and mortar, it is purposed to concentrate on obtaining an impregnable financial backing, as the surest guaranty, not only for permanency, but for the highest grade of work as well.”

Don Whelan, vice chancellor for university advancement, said he often reflects on that quote. “He was making the exact case for support that we are today.”

Whelan credits early gifts like Mary Couts Burnett’s transformative 1923 donation totaling more than $3 million as well as bequests of oil-rich land in West Texas with bolstering the endowment in its first quarter-century.

In a February 1914 report to the Board of Trustees, TCU President Frederick Kershner wrote about a gift of $350,000 from the Disciples of Christ. The church’s investment in TCU, he wrote, represented a belief in its future.

By the end of the 1920s, the endowment paid out $80,000 a year to help fund the mission of the university. (By contrast, the payout for the 2022-23 fiscal year totaled $91 million.)

Mary Couts Burnett gave $3 million and oil-rich land in West Texas to TCU in the 1920s, saving the university from financial crisis. Courtesy of TCU Library Special Collections

Despite the financial pressures brought on by the Great Depression and World War II, TCU’s endowment kept growing. It hit $5 million in 1948, a major milestone for a small, regional private college at the time.

But 20 years later, the university, like many around the country, faced financial uncertainty. In the Summer 1968 issue of This Is T.C.U. magazine, Earl Waldrop, vice chancellor for external affairs, wrote the cover story: “Does TCU Face a Money Crisis?”

“Although giving at TCU has multiplied three-and-one-half times during the past few years, it should be five times what it is today,” Waldrop wrote, noting that TCU had recently increased its tuition from $30 to $40 per semester hour to keep apace of rising costs.

Five years later, the university’s centennial marked a shift in the fundraising approach with the New Century Campaign. The 1973 effort raised money for operating expenses as well as the endowment. Donors met the challenge with $35 million in gifts.

Momentum Builds

The endowment kept snowballing, said Jason Safran ’01, TCU’s chief investment officer. In 1983, the year the university celebrated its 110th anniversary, the endowment reached $100 million. It doubled in the next six years, totaling $200 million in 1989 before doubling yet again to $400 million in 1993.

The following year, the university announced the five-year New Frontier Campaign with the goal of raising $100 million; it ultimately collected more than $126 million.

In his role as chief investment officer, Safran said his team works to grow the endowment at as high a rate as possible while balancing that goal with acceptable levels of risk.

“The endowment is closely tied into the image of TCU,” Safran said. “Fortunately, we can be very selective in what we invest in.”

Despite an economic recession in 2008, the endowment’s growth continued to accelerate, thanks to the Campaign for TCU. By its conclusion, the Campaign for TCU had amassed $434 million, $99.9 million of which was committed to the endowment; $225.4 million went to facilities projects.

Lead On

In October 2019, TCU announced the most ambitious philanthropic campaign in its history, with a goal of $1 billion. Strengthening the endowment was one of four high-level priorities for Lead On; David Nolan ’92, associate vice chancellor for development, served as campaign director. The effort wrapped up in May 2023 with 56,680 individual donors investing more than $1 billion in the university.

We have a strong desire to help students whose families do not earn enough to afford a TCU education but earn too much to qualify for meaningful scholarships and other financial aid.
Mike Harrison, TCU alumnus

Brenda and Mike Harrison ’64 of Midland, Texas, were early supporters of Lead On, making a $10 million gift in December 2019 that established the Brenda and Mike Harrison Endowed Scholarship for students from middle-income families.

“We have a strong desire to help students whose families do not earn enough to afford a TCU education but earn too much to qualify for meaningful scholarships and other financial aid,” Mike Harrison said. “These very qualified and deserving students should have every opportunity to become Horned Frogs.”

The gift of an endowed scholarship — there were 1,049 such scholarships as of May 2023 — fuels connections. As director of donor relations, Karen Crouch ’79 asks students to write to the people who funded their scholarship.

“Some students establish lifelong relationships with their donors, exchanging Christmas cards, inviting them to weddings, sending them birth announcements,” Crouch said.

Lead On’s supporters shared a passion for the university’s mission to shape ethical leaders in a global marketplace. The campaign included more than $709 million for initiatives centering on people and programs, with most of the balance of the money for facilities. More than a third of the money raised, $370 million, has been committed to the endowment, which now sits at $2.6 billion.

“Establishing a $1 billion goal right from the beginning was pretty bold,” Whelan said. “There are less than a dozen universities in the country of our size and scope that have conducted billion-dollar campaigns.”

During the Lead On campaign in 2021, the Bezos Family Foundation gave TCU $5 million, some of which went to the College of Education to endow a chair in early childhood education, now occupied by Jan Lacina. Her research examines literacy, early childhood/elementary education and teacher education.

“We love naming buildings for donors, but that only allows us to recognize them for the building’s lifespan, which is 50 years or so,” Whelan said. “An endowed chair is in perpetuity, and the power of the endowment over time is extraordinary.”

“I firmly believe in the transformative power of the endowment through education,” said Safran, who noted that the Trustees hope to reduce dependence on tuition as the endowment increases. “TCU’s endowment is a very powerful force for good.”

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