According to the Alpine Chamber of Commerce, there are 101 reasons to stay in this West Texas town. But whoever compiled the list seems to have stretched his imagination just a bit: “Grab a Meal on the Go”—a stop at Sonic or McDonald’s—and “Get a Tattoo” account for two of the recommendations. Although Kokernot Field (like a mini Wrigley Field) and the Museum of the Big Bend are also listed as Alpine attractions, only Sul Ross State University receives five separate mentions.
Dan Rather once called the school “possibly the most underrated little university west of the Mississippi.” But according to Mark Twain, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” Overpowered in size and recognition by giants like Texas A&M University and the University of Texas, Sul Ross has fought to establish itself as a viable option for higher education, and it’s proven to be quite a feisty little puppy.
Named for former state governor Lawrence Sullivan Ross, the university has maintained a commitment to excellence since its inception. Students had studied for their teachers’ certificates at the Alpine Summer Normal School since 1910, but in 1917 the Thirty-fifth Texas Legislature authorized the founding of a permanent Alpine institution on the condition that Brewster County provide the land, water, utilities, and housing. The people of Brewster County complied, and in 1919 the Legislature designated $200,000 for buildings and equipment. Thomas J. Fletcher served as president of Sul Ross State Normal College from 1917 to 1920, and operations in the present Administration Building began during his tenure. In the summer of 1920 seventy-seven students enrolled at the school to study liberal arts and education.
The Legislature changed the name to Sul Ross State Teachers College in 1923, and the institution awarded its first bachelor’s degree in 1925 and its first master’s degree in 1933. After World War II, the school was divided into fine arts, science, social science, teacher education, vocations, and language arts. The name changed yet again in 1949—this time to Sul Ross State College. The enrollment surpassed one thousand in 1960 and two thousand in 1970.
Finally, in 1969, the West Texas institution graduated to university status and became Sul Ross State University. Since 2001, the university has been made up of three schools: arts and sciences, agriculture and natural resource sciences, and professional studies.
Although just 2,043 students enrolled at the Alpine campus in the fall of 2003, over the years Sul Ross’s commitment to academics has proven expansive. In the twenties and thirties Sul Ross sponsored fifteen educational trips to Chihuahua, Mexico, and it continued this international affiliation in the eighties by participating in joint programs with the University of Chihuahua. Sul Ross also retains its membership in the Texas State University System.
The university’s sports report card ranges from A’s to F’s. The Lobos lost every football game in 2003, but they can howl with pride that the football, baseball, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball teams have each won five conference championships and the women’s volleyball team has won nine conference championships. The school’s namesake, the late governor Ross, nursed a fondness for horses, so appropriately the university initiated the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association.
Most Sul Ross students come from small towns or rural areas, and almost 70 percent of attendees represent the first generation in their families to go to college. By maintaining an average class size of about twenty and providing financial aid for 90 percent of its undergraduates, Sul Ross offers affordable education and aims to see these students through to graduation.
Whether Alpine is your destination or just a stop along the road, Sul Ross State University offers an informational experience. And if you need to refuel after a full day on campus, you can always stop for Chinese food at Oriental Express because that, too, is apparently a reason to stay in Alpine.