Scholarships for students who have never considered ACU as a viable option is one thing Tamara Long hopes Higher Ground is able to achieve.
Higher Ground is ACU’s new $250 million campaign which is devoted to ensuring the success of the university. Long, vice president of enrollment and student life, said she believes Higher Ground allows prospective students to consider ACU as a feasible option because of the financial relief it offers.
“Our goal is always to help students find another place to land that’s affordable,” Long said. “It’s very sad to watch a student who wants nothing more than to stay here, have to face the reality of leaving because they couldn’t afford it. That’s where I’m most excited about the campaign is that focus on affordability and scholarship growth.”
Higher Ground is a comprehensive campaign unveiled last month and designed to push ACU to a new level. The campaign has a focus on maintaining the missional roots of ACU while combining academic excellence to continue to answer God’s call for the university.
Experiential Learning and Academic Excellence
The campaign includes two pillars: Academics and Experiences. About $130 million will be dedicated to elevating the academic profile of ACU. According to fundraising documents, that the money will be allocated to:
- Recruit, retain and reward exemplary faculty
- Develop a next-level research engine and academic infrastructure
- Remove financial barriers for high-quality current and future Wildcats
- Invest in state-of-the-art academic facilities
For experiences, the plan calls for $118 million to be used to:
- Reimagine residential living communities and student-centric spaces
- Expand opportunities for students to engage in life-changing and spiritually-formative experiences
- Embody a culture of diversity and inclusion
- Advance Division I, Christ-centered athletics
New facilities, scholarships and high-level faculty are what Dr. Phil Schubert said he and his team have worked tirelessly over the past four years to put together the largest fundraising campaign in ACU history.
“It’s an incredibly expansive campaign,” Schubert said. “It’s going to provide enabling funds for a whole host of different things for the advancement forward of the university to new dimensions of opportunity and areas of success.”
Schubert and his team worked in the “silent phase” of the campaign for four years to raise the funds necessary to move into the public phase of the campaign.Schubert and his team have already raised over $170 million toward the campaign.
“One of the things we’re continually working toward is to bridge the funding gap for students,” Schubert said. “From various families, environments and backgrounds that need and want to be here at ACU because we want to make sure it’s financially feasible for them. We know it’s not easy to afford a college education.”
Putting the Pieces Together
Dr. Robert Rhodes, university provost, said it’s rare to have an excellent university that’s also heavily focused on mission when looking at national ranking. Rhodes said he hopes ACU will continue to combine the mission aspect of the university with high quality academics. He also believes that the timing of this campaign is great for the advancement of academics at ACU.
“These next five years are going to show that very important balance because we’re going to be able to continue to rise as a university in rankings and visibility but also with increased focus on mission,” Rhodes said. “We’ve always had elements of that but we have a chance to really shine in both of those areas and that would make us very unique.”
Dan Macaluso who started as the vice president for advancement in October said his immediate role in the campaign was to assess its current success, solidify the campaign timeframe and case for support, affirm the overall campaign goal, and guide and support the advancement team, university leadership and the Board of Trustees toward their public launch, which was celebrated at the President’s Circle Dinner on April 2.
Macaluso is continuing to work on the public phase of the campaign to effectively communicate the vision of Higher Ground.
“I am already excited to see how incredibly dedicated and supportive our ACU community has been – over the years and in the early phase of this campaign – in generously and sacrificially investing in ACU’s ability to continue expanding our impact in the world, while remaining steadfast in our commitment to our Christ-centered mission,” Macaluso said. “Most of all, I am excited to hear even more of the many stories that exist around each and every gift to ACU and why people give.”
Long said she believes Higher Ground solidifies ACU’s place as a high-performing academic institution and as a faith-based institution. With Long being in charge of enrollment, she said she believes the campaign allows ACU to expand their outreach to out-of-state and international students. A trajectory of elevated excellence is the current direction Long said she believes ACU is heading.
“That’s pretty remarkable when you have other scholars and institutions that are looking over here thinking, ‘Wow, they’re doing something really special, this is really incredible research,’” Long said. “And they peel back the layers and go, ‘Wow, their research is founded in purpose and mission and does it tell the story of Jesus better?’ That to me is where we’re heading is a space where we can expose more people to what it means to be an institution whose integrity and quality is a result of our commitment to faith.”
Impact on Students
For students, this campaign brings a forward-thinking approach to better the experience of future students. The newly renovated Moody Coliseum is set to open this August as well as Cullen Auditorium opening this summer. The Freshman Village on EN 16th Street is set to be done by 2030 with Wessel Hall, on the site of the former Gardner Hall, opening in the fall of 2023. Campus is changing due to the money donated to Higher Ground over the past four years.
Student Government Association president Bekah Jones, a senior marketing major from Abilene, said she has been in a lot of meetings with upper management discussing the impact of this campaign.
“Just the term itself, ‘Higher Ground,’ just alludes to the fact that it’s ACU’s work and a big project to elevate the university,” Jones said. “In terms of education, opportunities, sports, and whatever that may be through construction and creating additional opportunities for students who come to campus to have a better experience. It’s a very futuristic outlook in terms of university growth.”
SGA treasurer Jackson Suss, junior financial management major from Weatherford, said the organization relies heavily on the number of students. Suss said the SGA budget is based upon the enrollment numbers at the institution as well. Suss said he believes that ACU is heading toward a more standardized university approach.
“Often you will hear more and more from upper management of ACU comparing themselves to larger state or private schools,” Suss said. “The goal is clear to match what they’re doing as much as possible. That helps a lot of things: athletics, education, and extracurriculars so putting that altogether that is the main focus is bringing in those students and building up those programs that are going to make us into a top-tier private school.”
In February, ACU officially moved up to a research level three institution in the Carnegie Institute rankings. Every three years the institute reclassifies each institution, and Schubert said he believes ACU will move up to a research level two institution at the next review.
“I mentioned in our faculty meeting recently that there are more than 4,000 universities, there’s about 400 that are nationally universities and those national universities are research one, two, and three,” Rhodes said. “When you get to R2, there’s about 45 privates and when you look at those private schools that are overtly faith-based, you’re down to four or five. It becomes a very limited group that there’s a chance for us to be a highly visible faith-based university.”
Schools like TCU, Baylor and SMU are research level two institutions, with schools like Harvard, Yale and Vanderbilt at a research level one. At the research level three level, where ACU currently stands, are schools like Lipscomb, Belmont, Stephen F. Austin, Dallas Baptist and Samford.
Schubert said these opportunities have opened because of the work of faculty and staff as well as the donors who have helped advance ACU into Higher Ground.
“It’s going to continue to push ACU into an elite position as a national leader in Christian higher education that’s focused on developing students with world class academics,” Schubert said. “Also as people of faith who are passionate about going out into the world and making a difference for the Kingdom.”