|MERCEDES, April 13 - Three weeks ago, on March 27, several state representatives, local elected officials, residents of the Edcouch-Elsa community and myself gathered to speak at a public meeting of South Texas College (STC) Board of Trustees to talk about the expansion of higher education.
We outlined a proposal that would benefit the people in the Delta Region. The presentation included statistical data from the US Census Bureau highlighting population pockets within our district and their needs. During the presentation, trustees heard well-formulated plans to create an STC satellite campus in the Delta region. With a college anchored in the Delta region, students from surrounding communities such as La Blanca, San Carlos, Hargil, Faysville, Linn, San Manuel and Puerto Rico will also have the opportunity to attend a campus that is more accessible.
I strongly believe in a college education for all and I have long supported the idea of making community investments into the Edcouch, Elsa, La Villa and Monte Alto area, which has the highest unemployment rates in Hidalgo County.
An investment in higher education raises the level of educational attainment, plus it encourages businesses to expand in the Delta. If the plan to bring STC to the Delta region is realized, I believe this will revitalize the area economically, an area that is showing economic promise. Last year, we saw a brand new HEB store built near the Mercado Delta in Edcouch. Also, a new Wal-Mart on the north side of Elsa is about to have its grand opening.
As pointed out by the state Reps. Terry Canales and Oscar Longoria from the Edcouch-Elsa region, one of the best decisions made by the residents of Starr County to the west was to approve the building of an STC campus. High school graduation rates improved and the building of the facility brought not only a convenient place for students to take college courses, it also boosted the local economy and created well-paying jobs.
This type of investment in higher education has proven successful in many places. Recently, Austin Community College announced it will build its 11th college campus. In some cases, these campuses are a mere three miles apart. Access to higher education must always be a top priority in our communities. It makes perfect sense that education and economic growth go hand-in-hand. As the Greek philosopher Diogenes said, “The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.”
Never during our presentation was there mention that money from the recent STC school bond should or would be used to fund this proposed higher education project.
In fact, Edcouch-Elsa representatives have offered many incentives to make this proposal as inexpensive as possible.
A good example of a success story is how STC, then South Texas Community College, began. I know this because I was its founding chairman. In the beginning, STC college courses were taught Monday through Friday evenings at South Texas High School for Health Professions (Med High), South Texas ISD in Mercedes and five other high schools in Hidalgo County, thus requiring no capital investment by the fledgling college.
This plan has worked before and it can work again in the Edcouch-Elsa School District. The Edcouch-Elsa School District has already offered to provide its new high school and its Vocational and Occupational Careers Building to STC. This offer includes labs, computers and extended library hours to the college students as well as other necessities for teaching and learning. The school district would pay utilities, operating expenses as well as janitorial costs, which would also offset the cost for STC. Any other costs, such as the cost of a faculty, would be covered by tuition.
The development of our region is not a dream anymore; it’s a reality. We are well aware that the new University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, and especially its new medical school, will propel the Valley into becoming a vibrant metroplex. We will be more of a metropolitan area than just many small towns joined like pearls on a necklace. We must prepare for this incredible future by offering more opportunities for higher education to our ever growing population throughout the region.
We all know that decisions such as these take planning. We also understand that the STC Board of Trustees are elected within their districts as important stewards of our tax dollars. We do not believe that our proposal would prohibit STC from providing additional services to other parts of the region. However, I believe that the people of the Delta region deserve accessible and affordable higher education; that’s why I joined in this important community effort.
As congressman for the Delta region, I will partner with our state senator, our state representatives and members of the STC Board of Trustees to start teaching college classes in the evenings to develop the demand which will someday soon justify a new college campus in that region of Hidalgo County.
Rubén Hinojosa is U.S. Representative for District 15 in Texas. A Democrat who hails from Mercedes, Texas, Hinojosa was a founding chairman of South Texas Community College, which became South Texas College.