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Listen: TCU leader sees benefits from championship run both on and off the field

TCU President.JPG
Fort Worth Report
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Bob Francis: In just the Fiesta Bowl appearance, TCU has seen an uptick in Google searches. That’s stunning for a school like TCU.

Pullin: Speaking of digital impressions, we’re seeing an exponential growth and visits to our homepage, tcu.edu. On Fiesta Bowl day alone, the traffic of that site was up over 150%. In the month of December, as the anticipation was building for that game, we saw 125% lift year-over-year for the entire month. There are a lot of eyeballs paying attention to TCU, and we’re excited to be able to tell the story. As proud as we are of the football team, we’re really, really proud of what’s going on academically and otherwise at this institution. And this moment’s giving us a chance to let the rest of the world know how special a place this is to be a student, to be a faculty member, to be on staff or to be a proud alumnus.

Francis: This can mean a lot in terms of attracting high-quality faculty members.

Pullin: Absolutely. We’ve got a strong academic institution. We’ve got amenities for athletics or otherwise that rival really any institution in the country. And then we get to operate a university in one of the most thriving metro areas here in North Texas, in Fort Worth specifically. It’s just a wonderful town to live, work, and play. And I think when you’re deciding where to invest the next chapter of your career as it’s, say, a faculty member, in many cases, TCU has it all.

Francis: How do you take advantage of those impressions? How do you then engage those people who are coming to look for TCU and seeking information?

Pullin: We’ve been really aggressive about providing narratives that highlight a broad array of excellence at TCU, not just athletics. We’re featuring some of the distinctiveness of our various colleges as one example. We’re ranked on the field and we’re ranked off the field, and TCU is squarely a top-100 university in the country. We’re really proud of what’s happened in the business school from a rankings perspective. We’re proud of our student outcomes, employment rates and graduation rates and all those things. Those are stories that we’re telling and using this moment to make sure that what we know to be such a special university is not lost on the world. Being the best kept secret is never a great approach.

TCU fans.JPG
Mark Mourer
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TCU fans at the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona on Dec. 31, 2022.

Francis: You’re not going to be a secret when you’re playing for the national championship anyway.

Pullin: Exactly. But we’ve got champions in the classroom, as well. And it’s giving us an opportunity to highlight faculty, to highlight some outstanding student leaders, to highlight the student experience and how connected our community is and the strength of our culture and how we partner with Fort Worth and the broader community to really run a university that has a broader impact that can make a difference in our communities and society as a whole.

Francis: I’m sure you’re seeing an increase in applications for admission, as well, what does it do in terms of that? I know in the Rose Bowl you saw an increase in people applying from California – and this is going to be in Southern California also – but this is even more of a national spotlight.

Pullin: Yes. And I think that achieves a number of positive objectives. First of all, if you have a broader pool applying, you have the opportunity to select a stronger and academically more capable class of students, which translates into a stronger learning environment in the classroom or faculty and their thought leadership can really push and challenge an increasingly capable student body. And if they’re challenged and can continue to learn at additional levels of strength, then their job prospects upon graduation are strengthened. Their relevance to top graduate programs goes up. And turns out faculty really like to teach smart students, and that allows us to retain our best and brightest as we move forward.

The other thing it does is, because there’s such national and international reach, it allows us to attract a more diverse student body from a variety of backgrounds, a variety of geographies. And that benefits all of our students once they get to campus. College for many individuals from a maturation perspective and a professional and personal development perspective can be really some of the foremost important years of your life in some respects. If our students are learning not just the academic dimension of what it takes to be successful in a career or in life, but they’re learning it with people from a variety of backgrounds, then they’re really being prepared to add value and lead upon graduation and that will turn into a stronger alumni base, stronger advocates for the future of our university, and it will all work together in a beautiful way.

Francis:  TCU’s enrollment is about 12,000 now. Is the school looking to increase that, or are you trying to keep that the same?

Pullin: There’s some thoughtful conversations going on about what is the right size for the institution. I think those conversations will certainly be informed by the built environment, making sure we have enough buildings and classrooms and cafeterias and residence halls and all the things it takes to support a growing student population without diminishing quality. Because I would put our student experience up against really any university in the country. And I think that student experience and the connected culture that we are so proud of has had everything to do with our success, and we wouldn’t want to get away from that as we look ahead.

Francis: Classroom size is always a consideration, I think, particularly in rating services and such, as well.

Pullin: Yes, it is. But it’s also, I think, very important to the learning environment, the mentor-mentee model of knowing that all of our faculty will know all of our students individually, and the opportunity for those intergenerational relationships to flourish is enhanced if we’re prudent about the size of our student body and the human and physical resources necessary to support it.

Francis: Events like this always bring in additional donors to the sports component of the school. If you see another influx of donations, what plans are there to put that to use?

Pullin: Certainly from an athletics perspective, we’re committed to providing facilities and amenities that will keep us in the top tier of athletics programs across all of our sports. But we also are very committed beyond athletics to our students and their ability to be successful not only academically, but also financially.

As you know, the cost of earning a degree at any university has gone up over time, and there are a lot of real reasons for that. One of our most forward priorities is securing endowed scholarships so that students who have financial need have the opportunity to earn a TCU degree without securing an inordinate amount of debt upon graduation. Scholarships will be a significant priority as well as how we are able to support our world-class faculty and how we’re able to make sure that the broader student experience is second to none.

Francis: The school is about to celebrate 150 years. I know you have a big initiative for fundraising as well. How will this event help you achieve some of those goals?

Pullin: We’re currently in a $1 billion capital campaign. We’re aiming to conclude that at the same time that we conclude the 150th anniversary celebration, the awareness of TCU, the excitement that has been built through athletics as well as our academic successes, has really activated the totality of our constituents. And when they see success, whether that’s on the field or off the field, and we’ve got a lot of both, they are more motivated to engage and invest and be part of a winner.

Francis: Actual game day, what will TCU be doing at the game or in the area to highlight the school?

Pullin: You will see quite a bit of visibility around the L.A. area for the TCU brand. We have a strong student-recruiting base, particularly in Southern California, and we think it’s an opportunity to continue to advance our success in that geography, both from a brand perspective as well as a student attraction perspective.

Francis: I’m sure the alumni group out there is pretty fired up.

Pullin: They’re excited, and I think there are so many people in that community that are looking forward to hosting Frogs from all over the country, all over the world for this magical moment.

Francis: The students seem to really have embraced and gotten engaged by this team. There’s been a lot of creativity, such as the Hypnotoad. What are you seeing there?

Pullin: Our students are so engaged, and they’re such a big part of our community and our connected culture, and how lucky am I to get to spring out of bed every morning and see their energy and enthusiasm and their zeal and commitment to innovation in all its forms each and every day. It is a very, very special time at an incredibly special place.

Francis: How would you characterize the difference in the game experience between Oklahoma and TCU? You have that perspective? (Pullin was previously dean of business school at University of Oklahoma.)

Pullin: I think that both schools are committed to an outstanding game day experience. I think the success that we’ve been having here at TCU is particularly special, not only this year, but what’s happened over the last 20 years here. And I think it is a byproduct of decades of vision and commitment and leadership to being able to compete and win at the highest levels. I know this year has surprised many people in the level of success, but there are a lot of great stewards of this university who aren’t surprised at all because this has been a multi-decade commitment and investment in excellence in all its forms, athletically and academically, all across the campus.

Francis: It would be a good case study in long-term goals, that’s for sure.

Pullin: It’s a great case study in leadership and commitment to a vision.

I’m really proud of our institution for not only celebrating this moment, but recognizing the opportunity that we have to make this great place even greater.

Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at bob.francis@fortworthreport.org.