AUSTIN, March 19 - Gov. Rick Perry has praised the Texas House for passing legislation that would create a new university for South Texas with the promise of a medical school to come.
House Bill 1000, authored by the dean of the Rio Grande Valley legislative delegation, state Rep. René Oliveira, passed on a vote of 149-0. It merges UT-Pan American, UT-Brownsville, and the Regional Academic Health Center into a new university to be administered by the University of Texas.
A similar bill, Senate Bill 24, authored by state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, was passed 30-1 by the Senate last week. One of the two bills has to be passed by both House and Senate before it reaches Perry for his signature. Perry promoted a new university and medical school for South Texas in his State of the State address earlier this year.
The legislation requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers in order for the university to be able to access the Permanent University Fund, which accumulates wealth through the leasing of land in West Texas for oil and gas production. UTPA and UTB have never been able to access the PUF.
“Expanding higher education opportunities in South Texas is a critical next step in one of the fastest growing regions of our state,” Perry said. “I applaud members of the Legislature who have worked hard to move our state one step closer to this important goal.”
After HB 1000’s passage in the House, Oliveira told reporters it was a “glorious day” for South Texas. He promised that the new university with medical school would be a “game changer” for one of the most impoverished regions in the United States. He said the fact that HB 1000 was the first bill of the regular House calendar to be heard this session was a clear indication that state leaders recognize the importance of investing in South Texas.
“Members of the House are recognizing that more educational opportunities and improved medical care in South Texas are key to the state's economic power,” said Oliveira. “It's also recognition that providing new opportunities for Hispanic students and their families means a vibrant future for Texas.”
Oliveira said while there are still some “procedural hurdles” to clear, the legislation has been moving “quickly and positively” through the legislative process. “House and Senate members in both parties have stepped up to the plate to do the right thing,” Oliveira said.
The entire Valley legislative delegation rejoiced at the passage of HB 1000. Freshmen Reps. Bobby Guerra, D-McAllen, Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, and Oscar Longoria, D-La Joya, were joint authors of the bill.
Co-authors included Reps. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, Eddie Lucio, D-Harlingen, and Sergio Muñoz, D-Mission.
“The shackles that restrain the Valley from taking its place as the most dominant force in the Texas economy are the chains of educational disparity,” Canales said. “For generations, South Texas has not fallen behind, it has been left behind. The creation of this new university system and medical school will not only rectify the inequities of decades of not having access to the Permanent University Fund, but release us into a better world of economic and educational successes.”
(Editor’s Note: The Guardian will update this story as more reaction comes in on the passage of HB 1000.)
The idea of creating a new university for South Texas, thus allowing access to the PUF, came from UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and UT System Chairman Gene Powell in the middle of last year. They announced it publicly in Austin last December. The UT System has issued a document with key points about the new university with medical school. Here are the points:
1) The main campus of the new university will be in Brownsville and Edinburg. The goal is to build a ‘university of the 21st Century’ that uses blended and online learning and new and highly technologically-equipped classrooms.
2) While academic campuses will be in Brownsville and Edinburg, the new university will also have a strong and visible presence in Harlingen and McAllen.
3) The new university will be immediately competitive with current UT emerging research universities by merging assets. For example, the new university’s student population would be 28,000; research expenditures would top $11 million; and the university would have an endowment of $70.5 million. This compares to a student population at the University of Texas at San Antonio of 31,000; research expenditures of $30.4 million; and an endowment of $81.8 million.
4) A school of medicine will immediately enhance the status of the university in terms of research, philanthropy, and the ability to attract new faculty, research funding and additional economic development to the region.
5) The initial cost to the state of Texas of the merger of the two institutions should be zero, as the UT System and the two existing campuses have committed to absorb all costs in the creation and transition. The UT System expects to save as much as $6 million a year through administrative efficiencies and other cost-saving methods that will eliminate redundancies.
6) Accreditation for the university by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools will be sought in early 2014 and is expected to be granted by 2015.
7) A huge benefit of creating a new university is eligibility to participation in the Permanent University Fund (PUF) if the Texas Legislature approves the bill be a two-thirds majority in both chambers. Adding a new university to those currently eligible for PUF will have no impact on funding available for the Texas A&M University System and minimal impact on UT institutions.
8) Because UT Brownsville and UT Pan American are not currently eligible for PUF, they now receive assistance from the Higher Education Assistance Fund (HEAF). A new, PUF-eligible university will no longer be eligible for HEAF, freeing up more revenue for other Texas institutions benefitting from that fund.
9) The school of medicine will be developed initially through the use of facilities at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, including four buildings that are part of UTHSC-San Antonio’s Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) in Harlingen, Edinburg and Brownsville. Today, roughly 100 medical students receive part of their medical education at the RAHC and between 30 and 35 graduate medical residents study and work at hospitals across the Valley each year. Following graduation, 66 percent of those residents remain in the Valley to practice medicine.
10) Plans to establish a stand-alone medical school in South Texas, authorized by statute in 2009, were already underway prior to the proposal to create a new university. A prior request for state appropriations of $30 million a year - $10 million of which represents recurring existing appropriations – to support the medical school still stands. The UT System Board of Regents has committed $10 million a year for the next decade to help establish the medical school. An additional request of $20 million for the biennium ($10 million a year) will also go before the Legislature. These funds will go toward the recruitment of a founding dean for the medical school, associate deans, department chairs and other key faculty members. The money will also be used to recruit a director and faculty of a diabetes and obesity research center or institute based in South Texas.
11) In Texas, there are 165 doctors for every 100,000 residents. Our state lags far behind the national average of 240 doctors for every 100,000 residents. But in the 12 counties that make up the Rio Grande Valley, there are only 124 doctors for every 100,000 residents.
12) With the new school of medicine, UT plans to increase graduate medical residents to 150 per year and place them in hospitals in Brownsville, Edinburg, Harlingen and McAllen. Education in the new medical school will include opportunities for innovation and creativity, including a project through the UT System’s Transformation in Medical Education (TIME) program, an effort to create integrated undergraduate and medical degrees in a holistic curriculum. This approach could allow students to complete their undergraduate and medical degrees in six to seven years, rather than the traditional eight.
13) An economic analysis has projected that the new university and school of medicine in South Texas will account for 7,000 new high-paying jobs in the Rio Grande Valley.
14) The geographic location of the new university offers the opportunity to build a center for bicultural programs in a host of disciplines, including economics, business, medicine, biomedical sciences, energy, environmental studies and Latin American studies.