At the dawn of the 1940s under President Pat Neff, Baylor University had risen out of the morass of the Great Depression and the substantial debt which followed. A recovered financial foundation presented the opportunity for Baylor to build, specifically by expanding the physical campus and increasing the endowment. The decade proved to be a challenging and exhilarating period as the university’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends celebrated its centennial, endured a trying war-time economy, and persisted in supporting Baylor’s assent toward a renowned institution of higher learning.
Baylor University withstood a variety of financial challenges during the 1940s, including the limited growth of the endowment. During World War II, student enrollment shrunk and then rebounded greatly after the war, straining the campus and its facilities beyond capacity. Eventually, Neff would see Baylor’s endowment, which he declared as “dangerously short” at the beginning of the 1940s, nearly triple by the time he retired in 1947. Neff accomplished this in a number of ways: He sought funds from various constituents, partnered with fundraising efforts of the Baptist Foundation of Texas, made difficult financial decisions, and delegated fund raising projects to able champions of the cause, one of which was Baylor alumni.
Developing the physical grounds of Baylor in the 1940s proved to be another great financial challenge. During a time of excessive need, alumni, through the Ex-Student Association, played an integral role in Baylor’s fundraising efforts. World War II and the resulting economy impeded the completion of many Baylor campus projects, including the Union building, the Browning Library, and the launch of a new football stadium. Campus construction was at a standstill, leaving unfinished projects standing like ghosts on campus reminding students of a thriving pre-war era. Although alumni were short on financial resources, many of whom were serving overseas, the aggressive marketing tactics used by the Ex-Students Association ultimately succeeded. Leveraging a variety of campaign strategies, the Association gained momentum during the decade to aid in completing a few significant projects. Alumni giving, in the form of time and money, helped ensure Baylor’s financial stability. Though hesitantly at times, Baylor graduates became a vital source of funding for major campus projects and advancing Baylor.
The 1940s were a financially significant and turbulent time for Baylor University. Yet, through the persistence of Pat Neff, alumni, and other Baylor supporters, the university not only survived the trying times of World War II, the resultant exodus and influx of students, and the implementation of concurrent financial campaigns, but celebrated its centennial and many notable expansions to the campus and endowment. During the decade of the 1940s, Baylor University reestablished sound financial footing on a path to develop into a great institution.
The following papers discuss Baylor’s history in gaining this financial footing:
Alumni Financial Support: A Vital Source for Baylor University’s Campus Expansion in the 1940s – by Ryan Erck
Pat Neff’s Efforts to Raise Baylor University’s Endowment Amidst Unique Challenges and Concurrent Priorities in the 1940s by Jeff Strietzel