A Presidential Commitment to Scholarships
Lawrence Schovanec benefited from others' generosity as a student. Now as Texas Tech's 17th president, he's making scholarships a priority amidst a climb up the rankings.
Lawrence Schovanec’s dad came home from dairy farming in Oklahoma, swapped overalls for a suit and went to what used to be called night school.
His fellow farmers teased him about the classes.
But Leonard Schovanec persevered.
Night school, though, was taking him too long to reach his goals.
“So, he sold the dairy and started commuting to Oklahoma State — a 60-mile drive,” said his son.
Leonard Schovanec finished both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees before Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma, hired him to teach.
He eventually became chairman of the Department of Business Administration.
“He wasn’t a scholar, but he was a great teacher and a good administrator. He would tell us, ‘there’s not much to divide when we die, but we will help all of you get a college education.’ So part of his plan was to get a job at a university where he would get reduced tuition,” said Schovanec.
“Instead of paying $35 an hour, we paid $7,” he said of the school where Texas Tech University’s president got his bachelor of science degree.
“Not every parent is going to be able to become chairman of a business department and get reduced tuition for their kids. The best we can do is give them some of that support through scholarships,” said Lawrence Schovanec.
Even with increased costs, Schovanec said the differential in earnings between a college degree and a high school degree has grown even more in the past 20 years.
“That’s why it’s so easy for me to advocate for the worth of a college degree,” he said.
A vision for scholarships
President Lawrence Schovanec sits in his office in Texas Tech University’s Administration Building — passionately describing how he wants to give more students a chance at a college education.
His focus is on increasing the number of scholarships. Specifically, two kinds:
- Merit scholarships will make sure the university can attract more of the best and brightest — which adds to Texas Tech’s status as a national research university and boosts the flagship institution’s national rankings.
- Need-based scholarships will ensure access for a broader group of students who represent the shifting demographics of Texas and the nation’s role in a global economy.
Schovanec wants to do both and believes philanthropy can make it happen. By emphasizing giving to scholarship endowments, the president hopes to grow the long-term investments that sustain scholarship awards to top students and those with financial need. As the university builds those endowments, donors will be giving students a life-changing opportunity, while at the same time boosting the university’s growing national reputation.
“What resonates with people is giving support that helps students — because most people who give had an experience where somebody’s gift made their education possible.”
He’s proud of how the Texas Tech community supports the university and grateful for the longstanding tradition of alumni who give back to help today’s students pursue a college degree.
“What resonates with people is giving support that helps students — because most people who give had an experience where somebody’s gift made their education possible. Or a faculty member touched their life. And you hear it time and again,” he said.
The best and brightest
Dalton Tidwell and Doug Foster are the kind of high-achieving students Texas Tech is attracting with merit scholarships.
Tidwell, a native of Sherman, Texas, graduated from the College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources in December with a bachelor’s degree in animal science.
He’s was presidential endowed scholar and benefited from the Ellen M. Talbott Scholarship Endowment.
And he wants to go to medical school at Texas Tech University Health Science Center to focus on rural medicine, where there is a huge need.
Those positions — critical to the health of one out of every five Americans who live in rural communities — don’t usually pay as well as doctors who specialize. So having no debt after he finished his undergraduate degree was important.
The scholarships — and his family’s Texas Tech legacy — also played a role in him becoming a Red Raider.
“Grandfathers, dad, uncles, aunts, brother and sister all went to Tech,” he said. “They made it where I couldn’t turn them down.”
Foster also graduated from the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering in December, and was a recipient of the Knox-Davies Scholarship Endowment.
With his bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering, he wants to design embedded systems — software and hardware combinations that run the processors in our phones, control the flight paths of autonomous drones, and maybe someday power the navigation of self-driving cars.
To reach his dreams, he would have been willing to take out loans — and he’s thankful he didn’t have to make that choice.
“When you want to do something and you need a degree from an accredited institution, you take out loans and make do if you have to,” he said.
The scholarships help him focus on classwork.
“I saw people who have to work up to 20 hours a week while doing engineering work, and engineering work is very rigorous. I can spend that 20 hours a week toward course work with better performance and better grades,” he said.
“I have a few friends who have about $30,000 in loans getting their engineering degree and graduated last May. They’re already getting notices that the grace period is over and they need to start paying,” he said.
The importance of need-based scholarships
“At Texas Tech, we want to rethink how we support students who are need-based versus the selectivity we have to pay attention to if we want to move up in the U.S. News & World Report rankings,” said Schovanec.
Today, the number of students receiving merit scholarships outnumbers those receiving need-based awards.
“That’s the issue we’re trying to address,” said Schovanec.
But he knows those rankings are important.
Finding equilibrium will position Texas Tech as a leader in providing higher education opportunities to the state’s emerging Hispanic population.
“When we look at the state of Texas, more than 50 percent of the high school students were Hispanic,” said Schovanec.
“Let’s be elite without being exclusive…Let’s do both.”
“Let’s be elite without being exclusive, and let’s recognize in the state of Texas if we see a decrease in participation in higher education [for Hispanics] the implications for the economy of the state are significant.
“Let’s do both.”
The university received good news in September that — driven by record enrollment of Hispanic undergraduate students this fall — it has met the enrollment criteria to be recognized as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) by the U.S. Department of Education.
HSI institutions have full-time undergraduate student populations that are at least 25 percent Hispanic. Texas Tech is at 27.8 percent.
This means the university will be eligible to apply for $8-10 million in additional federal funding next year.
“This is an important distinction,” said Schovanec. “We will be one of 10 Carnegie Tier One institutions to receive this designation, which will greatly benefit our continuing efforts in educating and graduating a diverse student population.”
“To increase your Hispanic enrollment by 3 percent in one year is unprecedented. What do I think it reflects? Additional money in need-based scholarships,” he said.
‘She was that kind of woman’
Schovanec’s mother also modeled the importance of a college education.
She graduated from Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) in 1950 and was the first in her family to go to college.
“She started in 1947 and graduated in 1950 — she was that kind of a woman,” said her son.
“In 16 years she had 12 kids. She was basically pregnant for 16 years! When she was pregnant with the 12th child, she had started working on her master’s degree,” said Schovanec.
That kind of determination and commitment to higher education continues to serve as a model for her son, who as the 17th president of Texas Tech University has made increasing scholarship endowments a cornerstone of his administration.
What Schovanec has done to boost scholarships
His first year in office, Schovanec put $4 million more into presidential scholarships.
“Those are people in top 25 percent of their class with SAT scores above 1,200,” said Schovanec. “We had a tremendous increase in presidential scholarship awards…and I think we’ll see about a 50 percent increase in presidential scholarships.”
The university also put an additional $4 million in funding into need-based scholarships.
Schovanec said all that support drove a larger, more diverse freshman class.
Freshman enrollment for the fall 2017 semester was 5,885 students, well beyond 4,690 the previous year.
“And I think the scholarships made the difference,” he said.
Which is why the president wants to continue to invest more in scholarship endowments — to do more.
And donors are responding to his vision. In late 2016, the university saw an exciting example of the length alumni and donors will go to support Texas Tech.
The university announced a match opportunity for undergraduate merit scholarships at 6 p.m. one evening. Every dollar contributed by donors was eligible for a 100 percent match — doubling the impact of donations.
The goal was $1.7 million new dollars to increase merit scholarship endowments.
The response was overwhelming.
After lunch the following day — only hours after the call for support went out — donors had given more than $2 million.
When the dust had settled, the total impact was more than $4 million in new scholarship endowments, including the endowments that supported Tidwell and Foster.
What about those rankings?
Texas Tech’s president does not want be a slave to rankings — but he acknowledges they play an important role in helping families make decisions.
And when donors give money to Texas Tech, it helps the university rise in reputation.
But what does that really mean?
One of the major rankings parents and students consider is U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges Rankings, and 5 percent of those rankings are based on alumni giving.
Texas Tech was ranked 176th of all universities in the country in the latest rankings released in September. It was also 128th in High School Counselor Rankings and 95th in Top Public Schools.
Schovanec said parents are also paying more attention to rankings from Payscale.com, Kiplinger, Money and Forbes. Here’s what some of those sources are saying about the university:
- No. 61: Return on investment ranking among Carnegie “Highest Research Activity” public institutions, Forbes Best Value College Rankings, 2017
- No. 138: Top public colleges, Forbes Best Value College Rankings, 2017
- No. 146: Ranking among all institutions in terms of return on investment, Payscale.com, 2017
- No. 261: Best Colleges for Your Money, Money Magazine, 2017
“They put a higher emphasis on return on investment and that’s where scholarships come in. If you can reduce the cost of education, you’re going to move up in those rankings that look at ROI. So not only are you doing what’s right for the kids, reducing your costs, and what’s good for the state in educating our population, it’s also good for our reputation,” he said.
‘The best gift they could give’
The example and expectation Schovanec’s parents set for their children paid off.
“I think every one of my brothers and sisters with the exception of one or two were valedictorian and salutatorian of their class,” said Schovanec, who then added with a smile, “That’s not saying much, because there were like 29 people in my class.”
“One time I was telling my sons I was state champion in the mile run and [my wife] said, ‘You beat two goats, a cousin and a chicken.’” he said.
All dozen Schovanec children graduated from college — nine from Phillips, two from Oklahoma State University and one from The University of Oklahoma.
Schovanec’s parents told their children they would help them get a college degree, which paved the way for his career in higher education.
“Everybody did, and it was the best gift they could give us,” he said.
As president of one of the nation’s top universities, he’s — in a way — returning the favor.
By making scholarship endowments a philanthropic priority, Schovanec is ensuring Texas Tech continues to attract top students and preserve access to higher education. He’s also attracting the support of alumni and donors who have embraced his vision for giving back.
And those who invest in scholarship endowments will help raise the university’s reputation and pave the way for countless Red Raiders for years to come.