With a recent $400,000 gift to the University of Mississippi, Allen and Leah Crosswell of Houston, Texas, have provided the means to hire and support a new recruiter whose goal will be to get more high-achieving Texas students to choose Ole Miss for college.
Crosswell, a 1989 graduate of the UM School of Business Administration, agreed to underwrite the expenses that will support the role of a senior-level admissions counselor in Houston. The university currently has only one other Texas admissions counselor, who recruits out of Dallas.
“The Crosswells graciously offered a solution to an identified need, and for this gift we are very grateful,” said Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter. “The Crosswells’ generous philanthropic investment in our university reveals their passionate belief in the power of education and their vision for improving opportunities available to young people.”
Though Texas has recently taken Tennessee’s place as the second state after Mississippi with the most students at Ole Miss, Crosswell says too many outstanding Texas high school students are enrolling elsewhere.
“We’re primarily trying to increase the awareness of the value of a degree from the University of Mississippi,” said Crosswell, whose businesses are active in retail development, industrial acquisitions and asset lending. “We’re not getting the students with the upper grade-point averages and upper ACT and SAT scores. They’re going to the other competitive colleges primarily because they don’t know what we have to offer.”
Crosswell believes these high-achieving prospective students would be more likely to choose Ole Miss if they knew of its many benefits — the curricula, faculty and culture that made a difference in his own values and life views, so much so that he felt compelled to give back.
“Most of them don’t even know we have the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College,” Crosswell said. “They're not hearing about the national ranking of our schools or that our Patterson School of Accountancy is ranked in the Top 10, for example.”
And it’s just a matter of spreading the word, says Crosswell who has worked with the Office of Admissions to develop a program that will get these students’ attention.
“We’ll make sure they know what we have to offer, make sure they get set up to come visit here, make sure they can meet other Ole Miss students from the major metros of Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio and also visit with some of our professors,” Crosswell said, adding that the whole experience will be pre-arranged by the recruiter. “I think it will help us build awareness for what we have to offer.”
It will also provide a personal touch, says Leah Crosswell: “Everybody wants to be wanted, so all of sudden they have somebody who wants them and who’s showing them a program that will have real value when they graduate.”
“It’s going to be an eye opener for some of these kids,” Allen Crosswell continued. “They’ll see that they can get the excellent academics they need in a really fun, Southern setting with fraternities and sororities and SEC football. You can’t find that in most places. We’ve just got to sell it. So that’s what we’re trying to do and we believe a recruiter can show that culture to students in Texas.”
It’s a unique concept, says Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Brandi Hephner LaBanc.
“The Crosswells’ gift is unprecedented for the university as far as providing resources to our admissions office and is going to increase our exposure and give us an opportunity to be more high-touch in Texas where we get a number of wonderful students,” she said. “It will allow us to continue to expand the wonderful Ole Miss brand and that feeling of being an Ole Miss family.”
Both LaBanc and the Crosswells hope the Texas Recruiting Initiative Fund will be an example to others who may want replicate the program throughout Texas and in other states.
“It says that people value the work of the office of admissions,” LaBanc said. “They are a staff that is always out all year long. If they’re not working on the incoming class, they’re working on the following year’s class. They’re such a hard-working group of individuals and for someone to recognize that and want to help them expand their scope and expand the impact that they already have is such a real blessing.”
The Crosswells, who have a home in Oxford, frequently visit the university where their son Holcombe is a junior integrated marketing communications major. Their son Greyson is a high-school senior who plans to attend Ole Miss in the fall.
The Texas Recruiting Initiative Fund is open to receive gifts from individuals and organizations. Checks to the University of Mississippi Foundation, with the name of the fund noted in the memo line, can be mailed to the foundation at 406 University Ave., Oxford, Mississippi 38655; or made online at www.umfoundation.com/makeagift. For information on establishing a similar fund, contact Brett Barefoot, development officer for parents, at 662-915-2711 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Bill Dabney