There are more than 3,700 public and private high schools in Texas, and one couple is working to encourage students enrolled there to choose the University of Mississippi for their college home.
The husband and wife, who wish to remain anonymous, have made a $100,000 gift to establish the Texas Rebel Scholarship Endowment and assist full-time entering freshmen from their home state. The private support comes after the couple’s daughter, now a young alumna, pursued her undergraduate degree at Ole Miss.
“Texans are proud people with a proud heritage,” one of the donors said, “and many would choose to attend either the University of Texas or Texas A&M University. However, the tremendous population growth of the state over the past 20 years has caused enrollment limitations at those universities. As a result, our daughter and many others have looked to other institutions outside the state.
“Our daughter was introduced to Ole Miss by a high school friend and after a visit decided that the university offered a quality education, strong traditions and the college environment she desired. My wife and I decided to encourage other Texas students to consider Ole Miss because of our daughter’s positive experiences and the lifelong friends and contacts she made during her time on the Oxford campus.”
The state’s diverse, flagship university boasts a student body of 23,780 on all its campuses composed of 60.2 percent Mississippians and 39.8 percent from around the nation and world. Overall, the student body includes representatives from Texas, every other state and 86 foreign countries. Minority enrollment totals 5,526 students or 23.2 percent.
Nationally recognized programs — such as the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, Stamps Scholarships, Croft Institute of International Studies, Lott Leadership Institute, Patterson School of Accountancy, Meek School of Journalism and New Media, Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence and more — draw students to UM.
“My wife and I are first- and second-generation college graduates respectively, who have been greatly blessed by God. Although we grew up in a middle-class area, our families could not afford to pay for our college educations. Therefore, without scholarships and full-time work, we might not have been able to attend college. We believe that our college educations have enabled us and our family to achieve our personal goals and the rewards associated with those goals.
“Having been inspired by others who helped us achieve our college dreams, we, too, want to help similarly situated students through a scholarship program. During a recent dinner meeting with two Ole Miss leaders, we learned of the rising costs of tuition at Mississippi’s public universities. Valuing education as a way to compete in the world economy, we felt compelled to give.”
Brandi Hephner LaBanc, UM’s vice chancellor for student affairs, expressed gratitude for the scholarship gift, adding that Texas has become second to Mississippi — a position previously held by Tennessee — in the number of residents who enroll at Ole Miss.
“With Texas being such an important recruitment territory for the University of Mississippi, we could not be more thrilled that this generous family wants to further our efforts in their home state,” LaBanc said. “Their gift will impact students in perpetuity and make it financially possible for some Texans to attend Ole Miss. They say everything is bigger in Texas and this is a story that proves there are some great big hearts in the Lone Star State.”
The donors worked with Brett Barefoot, development officer for parents and family leadership, to create a scholarship meaningful to them. First preference for the scholarship is directed to students from North Texas, with second preference to all Texans. Recipients must have a minimum high school grade-point average of 3.0. The award will be based on merit, but financial need may be considered by UM’s scholarship committee.
“The university community is both proud and humbled that this family has chosen to honor their daughter’s time at Ole Miss by helping others attend our university,” Barefoot said. “Having access to a college education is one of the greatest gifts you can provide — a gift that lasts a lifetime. Higher education broadens individuals’ lives on a personal level and prepares them for rewarding careers.”
The donor said he and his family appreciate the university’s well-rounded opportunities and its location in Oxford, Mississippi, known for its cultural, literary and entertainment offerings.
“A student’s college experience is not just academics but also interaction with others, semi-independence, personal responsibility, confidence building, leadership and Division I football. Ole Miss provides the backdrop for a myriad of opportunities for students to witness unique school traditions, such as young men dressing with coat and tie and young ladies wearing dresses to football games, as well as the Ole Miss family coming together for a reunion-type experience in the Grove. All of these make the experience unforgettable.
“Even several years after our daughter has graduated, we continue to make annual trips back to Oxford to get our fix for the experience of Ole Miss,” the donor continued. “Oxford is in the quintessential college town. Students can walk from campus to the town square, where support for the university can be seen in all the shops and restaurants. My wife and daughter enjoy shopping there because of the memories they make together.”
The Texas Rebel Scholarship Endowment is open to accept gifts of all sizes from individuals and organizations. Donors can send checks with the scholarship name noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; or contact Brett Barefoot in the Office of University Development at firstname.lastname@example.org or 662-915-2711.
By Tina Hahn