Texas universities are some of the most well endowed, but a new report questions if the funds really benefit students

In this Sept. 27, 2012, file photoTexas students walk past the university's iconic tower, in Austin. In a 4-3 opinion, a court majority held that Texas had demonstrated its “narrowly tailored” policy of looking at race to fill one-quarter of its freshman classes was necessary because a strictly “nonracial approach” had failed to produce enough student diversity. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

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From rising tuition costs and crushing student debt, to our nebulous immigration laws, a number of things outside the classroom may be making it more difficult for Americans to access an education.

In Texas, state universities boast endowment funds worth billions, but new reports shows the money might not be going where it’s needed most.

RELATED: Texas universities may lose up to 10 percent of their state funds, but they’re still rich as ever thanks to your support

Reveal teamed up with the Texas Tribune for a segment on education funding, looking into how Texas universities use their endowment funds, and whether the resources actually benefit students the way some fund managers claim.

The Permanent University Fund, created in 1876, is reportedly worth billions, encompassing land which generates what experts describe as significant sums of oil and gas revenue, and, since the land is endowed to the university system, the revenue is allegedly put back to the UT and A&M systems.

According to the Texas Tribune, Texas universities get millions each year from the money generated on Permanent University Fund land.

They say the problem, however, is how the money may be lining the pockets of college administration instead of going toward financial aid.

According to its financial disclosures, Bruce Zimmerman, the man who oversaw the endowment and managed its billions in assets, took home a salary of over $700,000 per year, and he reportedly regularly saw seven figures a year after bonuses.

Those who worked with him defended the salary, though, pointing to private sector fund managers who made even more.

Since the UT and A&M systems are public and, therefore, required under state law to disclose where their money goes, the Tribune deduced, out of the hundreds of millions of dollars it received from the fund, a reported $40 million went to student financial aid, with most of that spent at UT-Austin.

Large chunks of money are said to be used on purchases aimed at expanding the university system’s footprint, like the $215 million purchase of downtown Houston land, since resold after a public backlash.

State funding, according to the Tribune, continued to decline over the years for public universities. Its report contends the money would be put to better use by spending it on the campus and the students, especially since those cuts are potentially contributing to tuition hikes.

Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) said in a meeting of the UT Board of Regents the endowment fund “looks to me like an entity that has a lot more money than they know what to do with.” Seliger is chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee.

UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven defends the recent expenditures, claiming they’re a necessary part of managing a large state university system.

In his response to the Tribune’s request for comment, he declared: “(R)unning a 21st century university system requires leveraging the size, scale and diversity of the 14 institutions to better serve the broader educational and health care needs of the people of Texas.”

RELATED: Texas universities forced to tighten their belts, despite avoiding budget cuts

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