Between 1975 and 1985, university enrollment declined by 36 percent. The state legislature mandated that students were required to take at least one-third of their courses on campus, a ruling that negatively affected rural universities. The same decision also forced ETSU to devote fewer resources to undergraduate recruitment. Undergraduate enrollment dropped dramatically. In 1986, ETSU appeared on a list of state universities proposed for closure.
President Charles Austin began an organized campaign to counteract this proposal. Tens of thousands of letters were sent to alumni encouraging them to participate in a letter writing campaign to protest closure. On July 10, the day when closure decisions were scheduled to be made, 450 alumni and supporters crowded into the Texas State Senate chamber to show their support. Such measures appeared to work and the crisis ended with a straightforward announcement: “The staff of the Select Committee concludes that East Texas State University should not be closed.”