Points worth noting

Posted Friday, Feb. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Historical keepsakes

"Remember the Alamo -- with a gift you can't get anywhere else."

The headline on a news release about the "reimagined" Alamo gift shop is so kitschy, you almost want to hop the first highway down to San Antonio.

How can you resist this sales pitch from enterprising Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, whose office took over managing the Alamo in 2011:

"The Alamo Gift Shop is now a destination shopping venue with gifts you can't buy anywhere else. ... We've rethought everything to turn reverence into revenue for the Alamo."

Go to thealamo.org, and sure enough there are T-shirts and mugs with the slogan "Come and take it," a shotgun shell featuring the Alamo's familiar facade and shooter glasses with a sketch of the iconic building beneath a Texas flag.

And don't miss the magnet with a replica of the Travis letter.

Patterson's especially proud of that artifact. In it, Alamo commander William Barret Travis called for aid for the Texians defending the mission fort against the Mexican army and said he was determined to achieve "victory or death."

History-buff Patterson worked stubbornly to get the Texas State Library and Archives Commission to loan the fragile document for a temporary showing at the Alamo, Feb. 23 to March 7. It will be the first time the letter has returned to the site of the 1836 battle whose bloody result gave rise to the admonition "Remember the Alamo."

The refurbished gift shop, now operated by Event Network, a private company that also works with the Gettysburg National Military Park and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, opened Friday.

"Our goal was to turn the gift shop into a vital part of the visitor's experience with a dedication to historical integrity," Patterson said in a news release.

Gift shop revenue pays for keeping Texas' most-visited tourist site open and free to the public. The gift shop's gross sales were $4.6 million in 2012, when it was still run by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Private management should do much better than that.

Campus keeps moving

Based just on its looks, you'd have to say the University of Texas at Arlington keeps getting better.

Spring enrollment numbers show it's getting bigger, too.

The unofficial count of 33,806 students is an all-time high for the school and is consistent with what has been mostly an upward trend the past few years. UTA enrolled 25,084 in 2008 and has kept growing since, except for a slight dip last fall.

Though schools' 12th-class-day figures must be verified by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, they show that UTA pulled ahead of Denton-based University of North Texas, which showed 33,715 students, the Star-Telegram's Patrick Walker reported.

UTA's spring enrollment is 500-plus students larger than fall, which officials say reflects interest in online programs.

The university reported that the College of Nursing, the largest in the state, reached a peak of 7,995 students, almost 70 percent of them enrolled in academic partnership online degree programs that involve collaboration with more than 350 healthcare institutions.

The business, engineering, science and social work schools also are driving enrollment gains, as is the increasing appeal of UTA as a first college choice, instead of the role of backup that it played for many years.

The growth coincides with the university's push to become a Tier I research university, which would further raise its profile.

Adding more on-campus housing and opening the new College Park Center arena have spruced up the environs and attracted more eateries.

The university also touts its ethnic diversity: 15 percent of the students this spring are African-American and 21 percent are Hispanic. U.S. News & World Report ranks UTA in its top 20 for diversity, tied with Georgia State, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Texas Woman's University in Denton and the University of the Pacific in California -- and that's based on 2011-12.

"If anybody who hadn't been here in five or 10 years walked the campus today, they would probably say, 'I don't recognize this place,'" Ronald L. Elsenbaumer, provost and vice president for academic affairs, told Walker.

It's not your mother's university any more.

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