As SMU marks 100 years, it’s aiming for the top tier

By Lori Stahl
Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK — As SMU marks 100 years since its founding this weekend, school leaders say the university has moved well beyond a pay-to-play athletic scandal to launch a new era of academic rigor.

 It’s been about 25 years since the NCAA dealt SMU the “death penalty,” and those words seemed to hang in the air for years. Long after the meltdown in athletics caused the Board of Governors to break apart, supporters tried to reclaim their wounded pride.

Now with the same competitive zeal that once mainly surrounded athletics, school officials have redirected their fierce determination to win on a new battlefield. They aim to rank among the 50 best colleges in the country.

“What they really want is this university to increase its academic stature,” said law school professor Linda Eads, who as head of the Faculty Senate holds a seat on the Board of Trustees. “That’s what they talk about.”

Indeed, campus officials have been following a strategic plan for more than a decade that they hope will propel SMU into the elite top tier of higher education.

They’ve already reshaped the undergraduate profile by raising admissions standards and luring more top students with beefed-up financial aid. The average SAT score of first-year students rose approximately 100 points in the past decade, reaching 1,242 in 2010, according to SMU. Nationally, the average that year was 1,017. In Texas, it was 989.

To lure graduate students, the university has added doctoral programs in history, chemistry, engineering, English, education and software engineering, among others. The current capital campaign, which aims to create 100 new endowed chairs for faculty, has secured funding for 82.

At the same time, SMU has doubled the university endowment, added more than 50 acres to the main campus footprint and added 30 new buildings.

The return on those investments began to pay off this year when  U.S. News & World Report ranked SMU 56th among national universities. It was SMU’s best position ever, a significant jump from its rank of 68th the previous year.

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