Dallas & SMU: The Power of Partnership (2012)

About SMU Banner Graphic

Dallas & SMU: A History of Shared Success


Dallas Hall and Dallas

SMU's main campus is five miles from downtown Dallas, a closeness that has generated historic results and great potential for the future.

SMU began as a bold vision shared by Dallas civic leaders and the Methodist Church. The community had high aspirations for the success and prominence of the city, and the Church had a lofty mission of bringing higher education to Dallas, setting the stage for a synergistic partnership with historic results.

By the early 1900s, city leaders knew that with a population of 92,000 and growth on the horizon, Dallas would need a great university to meet its potential. At the same time, Methodist officials, seeking to expand the Church's mission of education, saw a need for a new university in the Southwest.

Dallas competed vigorously to be the new university's hometown, and, in keeping with its can-do spirit, the city won. The prominent Caruth, Armstrong and Daniel families offered land for the campus, and city leaders raised $300,000 to strengthen Dallas' bid. On April 17, 1911, the charter was signed establishing SMU in Dallas. Four years later, in fall 1915, SMU opened as Dallas' university, with 456 students and 37 faculty members. The curriculum focused on liberal arts, theology and music, and the campus consisted of two permanent buildings, including Dallas Hall, named in honor of the city.

Dallas competed vigorously to be the site of SMU. Above: An aerial view of the campus today.

Mutually Beneficial Working Relationship

SMU's founding was a promising start of a flourishing town-gown partnership. Through the years, the University has taken strategic steps to help Dallas spur its economic and cultural development and become a thriving community for families and businesses. An early step was the genesis of SMU's business school, which opened in 1920 after Dallas leaders urged the University to expand its offerings in business and commerce. Similarly, SMU's establishment of an engineering school in 1925 came in response to a request of the Technical Club of Dallas. Moreover, in the last decade, the University has opened what has become a highly successful evening law school program to meet a market demand in Dallas, as well as a new School of Education and Human Development to answer the request for research-based education reform in primary and secondary schools in DFW and beyond.

In turn, the constituents of Dallas and the region have stepped up repeatedly during the past century to help SMU become a leading national university. First, the community has been an essential source of financial support, enabling the University to improve the quality of its student body, faculty, academic programs and campus facilities. Moreover, many Dallasites have helped SMU in meaningful ways through their service on SMU boards, support of artistic and cultural events, mentoring students and providing networks for student career development. Just as importantly, the growth of Dallas and the region into a major global business and cultural center has enhanced the University's ability to attract and retain top faculty and students.

Dallas is the fourth largest metro area in the nation and home to 40,000 SMU alumni, many of whom lead the area's professional and civic development.

A Century Later – National Prominence for Dallas and SMU

The Dallas-SMU partnership has proven to be a successful venture for both partners, with a remarkable return on investment.

Dallas and the Region

The Dallas-Fort Worth region has become the nation's fourth largest metropolitan area. Home today to some 6.5 million people, DFW is projected to outpace Chicago and become the third largest metropolitan area, with a population of some 10 million residents by 2030. DFW International Airport is now the fourth busiest in the nation and the eighth busiest in the world. The Metroplex has become a mecca for commerce, serving as headquarters for 24 Fortune 500 companies. And the list of achievements goes on.


At the same time, SMU has become a nationally prominent university with a global reach. The quality of programs, students and faculty is evidenced by its strong ranking among national universities by U.S. News & World Report and other college guides. For instance, the Cox School of Business is one of the few business schools in the nation with three MBA programs ranked in the top 12 by Bloomberg Businessweek.

Dallas and SMU Partnership Today

The Dallas-SMU relationship continues to reflect the mind-set of its founders that the University and Dallas could together build a great city and a great university. Today, SMU is a major source of academic and cultural programs integral to the success of the Metroplex, attracting an estimated 300,000 visitors annually to campus. At the same time, the business vitality and global importance of the region add to SMU's strengths.

As in 1911, the constituents of Dallas and the region remain actively engaged in supporting the University. It is especially noteworthy that of the 42,000 donors to SMU since 1995, 23,000 are not SMU alumni. Likewise, each year more than 700 local corporate executives, entrepreneurs and civic leaders give of their time, visionary thinking and leadership skills by serving on SMU committees and boards, including the Board of Trustees. Additionally, about 1,000 organizations provide 4,400 internships and experiential learning opportunities to SMU students each year. The ongoing importance of the Dallas-SMU relationship can perhaps best be summed up by the fact that of the 40,000 SMU alumni in the DFW region, many have been and continue to be at the forefront of the civic and business leadership of Dallas and the region.