UT-Austin: Mission Accomplished for $3 Billion Campaign

University of Texas at Austin officials are claiming victory after an eight-year capital campaign, which ended Aug. 31, exceeded its $3 billion goal. More than a quarter of the total — $856 million — was raised in the last fiscal year alone.

This year's total exceeds last year's figures — what had been the campaign's single-year high — by nearly $400 million. It also bests Texas A&M University's record of $740 million in a single year, which that institution raked in the previous year.

Bill Powers, the UT-Austin president, attributed the rush in the final months to donors taking time to evaluate where their gifts could be the most helpful while still counting toward the campaign. "We had time to fine-tune where this money would go and how it would be used," he said in an interview, "and as we've gotten to the end, a lot of people wanted to see it come to fruition."

UT-Austin's "Campaign for Texas" was announced publicly in the fall of 2008 after a two-year momentum-building period. Given the country's economic difficulties at the time, Powers recalled being encouraged not to proceed with the campaign — or at least to lower the goal.

"People said to set it at $2 billion and you'll get $2.2 billion," he said. "I said I'd rather set it at $3 billion and get to $2.8 billion. If you set an ambitious goal, you have to be prepared sometimes not to achieve it. But we had confidence that, even in difficult economic times, people would step up, and they did."

Some of the campaign's accounting has been questioned along the way. University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall famously questioned the inclusion of in-kind software donations that were not permitted to be counted in reports to the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, an international organization that sets standards for higher ed fundraising reporting.

Ultimately, the university was forced by the system to remove more than $220 million from its total, which at the time temporarily knocked it back below the $2 billion mark. Powers said the software gifts in question were not included in the $3.1 billion total announced on Tuesday.

The sizes of donations in the campaign ranged significantly. There were more than 400 gifts of more than $1 million and more than 226,000 donors who gave less than $1,000 each. University officials noted that only 10 percent of the total raised went toward athetic initiatives.

Two of the largest gifts in the final years of the campaign went toward the university's new Dell Medical School, which plans to open its doors to students in 2016. In 2013, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation provided $50 million to establish the school. Last month, the Livestrong Foundation announced that it was throwing in the same amount to establish the Livestrong Cancer Institutes, which will be housed in the medical school.

Keeping up the medical school's momentum will be one of Powers' top priorities in the final months of his presidency, he said. In July, under pressure, he submitted his resignation, which will be effective on June 2, 2015.

In addition to the university's day-to-day operations, Powers said he will be particularly focused on steering UT-Austin through the coming legislative session and on efforts to improve undergraduate education. He has set a goal of boosting four-year graduation rates to 70 percent — a nearly 20 percentage point jump from the current rate — by 2016.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here