Back in the 1920s and 1930s, Austin’s leaders billed the city as “The Athens of the West,” both in tribute to, and promotion of, the element of culture bestowed by the area’s colleges and universities. While we dropped that lofty title decades ago, Austin’s distinction as an eminent educational center of the South remains. our institutes of higher education add luster to the jewel that is Austin. For its sheer size and importance in the economic development of Austin, the University of Texas stands in a class by itself. But Austin’s other fine colleges and universities are vitally linked to this city in countless ways as well. The symbiosis that exists between the Austin community and its various institutes of higher education is one of the defining characteristics of the region.
One need only walk through the campuses of our institutes to get a feel for Austin’s educational traditions. The sprawling UT campus with its giant shade trees, sculptures, fountains, mammoth buildings, and the 27-story UT Tower, which has become as much an Austin landmark as a UT symbol, are enough to inspire a certain reverence. The Gothic Revival–style Main Building on the St. Edward’s University campus stands as a stately landmark in South Austin, while Huston-Tillotson University’s elevated site overlooking downtown from the east is a living legacy to Austin’s education of African Americans during Reconstruction and ever since. Austin Community College’s many modern campuses around central Texas serve as a reminder that there’s always room for more centers of learning here. Texas State University south of us in San Marcos and Southwestern University north in Georgetown frame Austin with educational foundations dating back more than a century.