San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

COVER: A sculpture of Lyndon B. Johnson on horseback presides over main exhibition floor at the LBJ Museum of San Marcos in 2013. FILE PHOTO by JAMIE MALDONADO/SAN MARCOS MERCURY


F ifty years later, university officials came together to celebrate the day Texas State’s most famous alumnus signed the Higher Education Act. The guest list included Luci Baines Johnson, youngest daughter of former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Texas State faculty and university presidents from across the country gathered in the Alkek teaching theater. The ceremony honored one of Lyndon B. Johnson’s greatest achievements while holding office—the Higher Education Act, which was signed in the university’s music building.

“I am thrilled to be here knowing how much Texas State meant to my father,” Luci Johnson said. “This is where he learned his dreams about becoming a public service worker and educator. It was on this campus.”

Luci Johnson said her father came back to Texas State to sign the HEA because it is where he was able to make his dreams come true. Her favorite aspect of Texas State is the Lyndon B. Johnson statue in the quad honoring her father’s work.

“They chose a student LBJ, with his tie flying in the wind,” Luci Johnson said. “Daddy would have loved that.”

Lyndon B. Johnson learned the importance of education and true meaning of poverty in Cotulla, Texas. He worked there in order to make money to pay for school, Luci Johnson said. He was given the opportunity to make a difference at Texas State.

President Denise Trauth began the ceremony with a remark regarding the signing’s significance and how education is no longer an advantage, but a necessity.

“We are celebrating the signing of the Higher Education Act and the access it brought to many students’ lives,” Trauth said. “It was the first time the federal government provided funds for a broad-based group.”

Trauth said the former president decided to sign the act on campus because he would be surrounded by students who had to work throughout college, as he had.

Lyndon B. Johnson knew what it meant to provide financial assistance to college students, Trauth said.

She said the HEA provided academically qualified Americans a path to education without impossible financial barriers.

“We are a better country because of the Higher Education Act,” Trauth said.

At the ceremony, Trauth introduced Muriel Howard, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Howard spoke about university presidents who have faced hardships but were able to overcome those struggles with the help of the Higher Education Act.

One of the stories Howard shared was of Joseph Castro, California State University-Fresno’s president. Castro lived on a farm and came from a low-income family.

Castro was admitted to and graduated from the University of California with the help of financial aid from the federal government.

“In 1965, it was revolutionary to hold the view that the lack of funds should not be a barrier for students,” Muriel said. “Students who thought college was beyond reach found the right of a future was not closed to them.”

This led way to the panel discussion moderated by Mark Updegrove, director of the LBJ Presidential Library. The panel talked about Rod Paige and Margaret Spellings, former United States Secretaries of Education.

Updegrove asked panel members what the educational landscape looked like before the HEA was enacted, how modern students face financial aid challenges and ways the system can be improved.

“The HEA was a groundbreaking compromise,” Howard said. “It provided grants and aid to develop institutions for not only universities and community colleges, but also historically black colleges.”

Paige said financial aid provides fundamental support for students who qualify but neglects those who do not.

Spellings said the current financial aid system is broken because students can no longer afford college. The average debt students acquire during their four years of college is $35,000.

She said a system needs to be developed that helps all students who need financial support to receive a higher education. Forty percent of students receive a Pell grant, totaling more than 60 million students.

David Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, concluded the ceremony by sharing how the HEA impacted his life and his hopes for its effect on future students.

“It is my hope that those in this room will once again come together on behalf of LBJ and the students he envisioned and had wishes about,” Warren said.

KASANDRA GARZA reports for The University Star, the student newspaper of Texas State University, where this story was originally published. It is made available here through a news partnership between the University Star and the San Marcos Mercury.

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