Our History: Then and Now
The founder: Frederick C. Austin
Scholarship founder Frederick C. Austin, a manufacturer of innovative road machinery equipment (dump wagons, scrapers, etc.), played an important part in building the pre-automobile highway system in the United States and several other countries.
As time passed, he recognized that "the college of hard knocks" was no longer capable of yielding leaders of the high caliber needed for the increasingly rigorous requirements of the business world. Consequently, Austin sold his thriving business to partner with Walter Dill Scott, a psychologist who had headed the Army's committee on personnel classification during World War I, to develop the broad outlines of what would become the Austin Scholars Program to train future leaders of American business.
The program’s inception
The program was launched in September 1929 with the enrollment of 10 Austin Scholars. It was a remarkable program in many ways. It provided full room, board, and tuition for four undergraduate years, plus a year of all-expenses-paid study and travel abroad. Today, an equivalent program would have an estimated value of more than $200,000 per scholar.
Even more remarkable were the innovative educational features built into the program including courses specially designed for the Austin Scholars and the uniquely supportive relationships between scholars and selected faculty. It was a rich and greatly rewarding educational experience for both the university and the Scholars.
The new program
The Great Depression put a halt on the scholarship program as the world faced one of the worst economic downturns. In 1959, the first of the new Austin Scholars enrolled, and 54 Austin Scholarships were awarded between the years 1959 and 1966. They not only insured high-quality additions to the student body, but scholarship competition helped bolster the university’s recruiting efforts.
Like their predecessors a generation earlier, the new Austins made their mark in the classrooms and on campus. They held leadership roles in undergraduate student affairs and established excellent records of academic rigor. Despite the long hiatus, they strengthened the traditions of excellence they had inherited.
The school of business
In 1966, the School of Business decided to convert to an all-graduate institution and enrolled its last incoming undergraduate class that year. The newly and previously enrolled classes were allowed to complete the four-year program, but from 1967 onward, all new entrants including Austin Scholars enrolled at the graduate level.
The Austin Scholarship played a key role in supporting the school (named the Graduate School of Management) to achieve its stated aim "to establish a position of leadership in graduate business education." Competition among the graduate business schools for topflight students was keen, but the Austin Scholarship gave Northwestern an unusually effective recruiting edge. No other graduate business school had anything comparable to offer.
The appeal of the Austin Scholarship lay not only in the financial stipend — although that alone put the scholarship in a class by itself — but in the aura which surrounded recipients. In the 39-year period (1967-2005), 770 Austin scholarships were awarded.