|WESLACO, November 1 - The University of Texas System is trying to stop Texas A&M University-Kingsville from launching a school of engineering in the Rio Grande Valley, arguing that it is duplication of educational opportunities already provided in the region.
Pedro Reyes, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at the UT System, sent a letter Friday to TAMUK President Steven H. Tallant urging him to reconsider his Valley plan and requesting an in-person meeting as soon as possible. Reyes said he was writing on behalf of UT-Rio Grande Valley, UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville.
But, Tallant is not reconsidering his plan. He is going ahead with it and has the full backing of Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp. Tallant and Sharp spoke at a luncheon in Weslaco on Friday and announced that TAMUK is moving its engineering program from Kingsville to Weslaco.
At the luncheon, Sharp said the Valley, Texas and the United States needs far more engineers. “It's not about what is best for Texas A&M Kingsville, Texas A&M College Station or any one university. It is about what is best for the children of the Rio Grande Valley,” Sharp said.
Here is what Reyes said to Tallant in his Oct. 31 letter:
Dear President Tallant,
I am writing in response to the e-mail notification dated October 23, 2014, sent to the University of Texas Pan American regarding Texas A&M University-Kingsville's plan to deliver degree programs in Weslaco, Texas. On behalf of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, I wish to express our concerns regarding the plan to deliver baccalaureate, master's and doctoral programs in the Rio Grande Valley.
Texas A&M University-Kingsville's plan is to expand programmatic offerings in an area of the state already served by an approved multi-institutional teaching center, the University Center at Texas State Technical College (TSTC) in Harlingen, and by UT Brownsville and UT Pan American, into which The University of Texas System has recently invested approximately $300,000 to expand higher education services across the region through UT Rio Grande Valley when it launches in fall 2015.
We share the desire Texas A&M-Kingsville to meet the local and regional workforce and higher education needs of the Rio Grande Valley and are confident that the combined programs currently offered at UT Pan American, UT Brownsville, and the TSTC University Center, together with the areas targeted for program expansion at UT Rio Grande Valley, will be more than adequate to accomplish this now and in the foreseeable future.
In addition, Texas A&M-Kingsville's plan would duplicate six programs currently offered at UT Brownsville and UT Pan American, while three other proposed programs are among the top priority to establish at UT Rio Grande Valley.
In conclusion, the plan laid out by Texas A&M-Kingsville would duplicate programs that are already offered by nearby institutions and that are planned for the new university. We hope that you will reconsider your plan and request the opportunity to meet with you in person at your earliest convenience for future discussions.
Pedro Reyes, PhD
Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
The University of Texas System
Details of TAMUK’s plans to expand educational opportunities in the Valley were outlined at Friday’s luncheon, which was held at the Texas A&M Citrus Center in Weslaco. The plan is to have a well-functioning campus with over 800 students by 2019-20, rising to over 1,000 students a few years later.
At the luncheon, U.S. Reps. Rubén Hinojosa and Filemon Vela, state Sen. Eddie Lucio, state Rep. Armando Martinez, and Weslaco Mayor David Suarez spoke enthusiastically in support of TAMUK’s plans. Lucio said Tallant is the “most exciting” president of a university he has ever met.
Here is a list of the degree courses TAMUK plans to offer at its Weslaco Center:
BS in Environmental Engineering (BSEV)
MS in Environmental Engineering (MSEV)
PhD in Environmental Engineering (PhD-EV)
BS in Chemical Engineering (BSChE)
MS in Chemical Engineering (MSChE)
MS in Civil Engineering (MSCE)
BS in Natural Gas Engineering (BSNG)
MS in Natural Gas Engineering (MSNG)
BS in Industrial Engineering (BSIE) (a new program with an anticipated start date of fall 2016, headquartered in Weslaco)
MS in Industrial Engineering (MSIE) (available as an online program)
BS in Industrial Management and Technology (BSIMT)
MS in Industrial Management (MSIM)
PhD in Sustainable Energy Systems Engineering (PhD-SESE)
BS in Engineering (BSE) (this will be a new program with anticipated start date of fall 2016).
According to Dr. Stephan Nix, dean of the Frank H. Dotterweich College of Engineering at TAMUK, the BS in Engineering (BSE) will be a “high standards, high expectation, and rigorous BS program built for flexibility and as a pathway to advanced graduate studies for the predominantly Hispanic population in the Rio Grande Valley.”
Of the degree courses listed above, all but a couple are currently offered by TAMUK. “All programs rely principally on faculty hired for the Weslaco Center augmented by courses taught by Kingsville faculty through TTVN and online as appropriate,” Nix said.
In his remarks at the luncheon, Chancellor Sharp made the case for more engineers in the Valley and Texas.
“The Texas A&M System is committed to serving the State of Texas and providing an educated, skilled workforce for the jobs of the future. Last year, we announced an initiative called 25 by 25, which seeks to increase the number of engineering students at A&M by 25,000 by 2025,” Sharp said.
“We have great faith that Texas A&M-Kingsville can successfully expand its engineering program, and the Rio Grande Valley is well suited for that expansion.”
Sharp said the need for additional engineers in Texas – and the United States – is critical and the need is growing.
“According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the need for engineers will increase by nearly 20 percent over the next 12 years. That is more than 43,000 jobs, and we are prepared to fill that need,” Sharp said.
“The Texas Workforce Commission also points to a need for more graduates in STEM fields, and we are prepared to address that need. In fact, this engineering initiative in Weslaco, coupled with the initiative in College Station, represents a System-wide commitment to increasing STEM graduates across the State of Texas.”
And in a remark that could have been directly aimed at the UT System and its request that TAMUK stay out of the training of engineers in the Valley, Sharp said: “Somebody told me this morning that something like 160 engineers have been produced here over the last several years. There needs to be twice 160 every semester in the Rio Grande Valley. When you look at Doctor's Hospital at Renaissance just as an example, the maternity ward there produces an elementary school every 30 days so there is going to be a serious demand. It's not about what is best for Texas A&M Kingsville, Texas A&M College Station or any one university. It is about what is best for the children of the Rio Grande Valley.”
In his remarks at the luncheon, Tallant said when he first approached Sharp about expanding engineering education in the Valley, Sharp said great but that he should have started two years ago. “It is a special day in the life of our university and I think the Valley,” Tallant said.
Tallant pointed out that TAMUK was the first higher education institution in South Texas and that it has had a presence in the Valley since 1948, when it opened its citrus research program to Weslaco. “We are bringing our entire engineering program down here. Call it the Texas A&M University-Kingsville Engineering Center in Weslaco,” Tallant said.
Tallant said TAMUK would be working closely with South Texas College and Texas State Technical College in Harlingen as it develops its engineering program in the Valley. STC and TSTC will be feeders to the school of engineering.
“We have what I believe is the premier engineering program in South Texas. You may not know this but we have eight accredited engineering programs. Nobody in South Texas comes close to that,” Tallant said.