WACO, March 4 – Governor Perry, as you are aware, the presidents of the University of Texas at Austin and of the Austin Community College have a shared vision for students to be admitted to UT via a new portal.
This new program targets and assists the top ten percent students who didn’t make the cut for admission to the University of Texas this fall. These students can now gain admission to the flagship campus under a new joint program with Austin Community College. The UT System and its Board of Regents should consider this new model as a means to create a new collaboration with Texas Southmost College in Brownsville. This collaboration makes the need for an investment of over $150 million in PUF resources moot. I propose that you, as governor, the legislature, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board consider the following action items.
Request that the UT System disengage the “new” UT for South Texas from the proposed medical school. Let the medical school initiative stand on its own merits. At present this proposal detracts and confuses South Texans about what needs to happen in the lower or the upper Rio Grande Valley in terms of undergraduate and graduate education as well as research.
Encourage the establishment of the proposed headquarters in McAllen for the combined university operations. The operational oversight of one executive team is cost effective. The main emphasis of the Brownsville operation should be the provision of upper division education [junior and senior level courses], graduate education [masters and doctoral] and timely research directed at evident challenges and opportunities in South Texas and northern Mexico. The Brownsville site would be designated a Center of Excellence and it would share facilities that are mostly within the domain of Texas Southmost College.
Governor Perry, we need a strong and outstanding community college in Brownsville and Texas Southmost College should continue to revive and re-energize its role and scope. As the oldest community college in Texas, it should direct its efforts to provide outstanding freshmen and sophomore education as well as technology and economic development to meet the workforce needs for the Rio Grande Valley’s transnational economy. It should also provide ongoing remediation training to students who graduate from high schools with a need for supplemental academic preparation to expand their capacity to succeed in a college or university.
Governor, the UT System and Texas Southmost College should put into practice, at a more extensive level, the program model being developed in Austin by UT and the Austin Community College. The emphasis on a seamless articulation between UT’s Brownsville site and Texas Southmost College will be of benefit to all students. Each institution should be mandated to do what it does best. There is no need for a comprehensive four-year university in the lower Rio Grande Valley, specifically, in Brownsville. There is, at present, an abundance of post-secondary education institutions at the Harlingen Center for Higher Education that is hosted by Texas State Technical College.
The same legislators that introduced the bill to create the “new” university need to reconsider, at the behest of you, as governor and the lieutenant governor, the introduction of another piece of legislation. This bill would require the UT System and the Board of Trustees of the Texas Southmost College District, to develop a cost saving plan to make maximum use of existing facilities and other resources in Willacy and Cameron County.
Governor Perry, these two institutions need to realize that whatever unresolved issues exist between them need to dissipate. There is no room for initiatives that are not in the best interest of their shared client: taxpayers. There is also no room for institutional hubris or the use of perceived power to create an imbalance in a relationship that must be the nexus to generate collaboration between public institutions that are charged with serving the greater good of Texas citizens. What we do need is a shared imagination of how to make the best use of existing facilities throughout the Rio Grande Valley and specifically those in Brownsville.
The higher education facilities in Brownsville are under-utilized. There is an insufficient corpus of present and future student applicants to sustain both the UT campus and the Texas Southmost College; simply put, it is demographically untenable. Has anyone made mention of the fact that 78 percent of all students at the present UTB-TSC campus are graduates of the Brownsville Independent School District? This fact alone leads one to surmise that the pool of students for either institution is rather limited.
Governor, you might ask how will this proposal lead to cost savings to the state of Texas? First, it eliminates an expensive executive team at the campus in Brownsville and it provides an opportunity to replace it with a professional management team with demonstrated success in higher education administration. Second, it eliminates the need to build an unnecessary and expensive infrastructure for UT’s Brownsville operation. Thirdly, it maximizes the use of resources that are already in place in Willacy and Cameron counties: training facilities, libraries, laboratories, other universities and academic departments that work for a common client, the student, while expanding accountability based oversight to eliminate waste and redundancies.
Governor, I also contend that the proposed $150 million PUF allocation would be better used, through appropriate legislation, to set up a perpetual institutional resource base for South Texas students. It could also be used to leverage matching funds to solicit grants and gifts from the private and philanthropic sectors. The interest and savings from these funds could be used to expand financial resources to shepherd students through their post-secondary education careers with minimal debt. These resources shall be designated the “Student Academic Support Fund.” The present and future flow of student financial aid from the federal government is dissipating and will continue to diminish. It is thus imperative that resources, such as PUF, be redirected to support the needs of the under-resourced students in South Texas. The investment in more buildings will not expand our region’s intellectual and knowledge capital.
Governor Perry, I fail to see either creativity or boldness in the proposed legislation for a campus in Brownsville. Once the Legislative Budget Board completes its mark up, there may be insufficient data to justify the construction of a $150 million campus in South Texas. Someone in Austin needs to sit down and look closely at the return on investment for the proposed use of the PUF allocation. It does not cover recurring costs. Those are expenses that will occur over and over again, ad infinitum, beyond generations yet born.
As a senior citizen, I take great joy and advantage of the many discounts and savings that are available to me since I turned 66 years of age. I am, however, not overjoyed by the waste of our state’s limited resources and in the use of our taxes to pay for what is not needed. The proposed investment by the UT System is both too expensive and unnecessary for our state to bear.
I believe that you, as governor, should continually challenge leadership, both in Austin and in the legislative delegation from South Texas, to be more visionary. There is evident deficit in thinking and an absence of due diligence, in our leadership as it acts on the legislation to create a “new” university for this region. As it now stands there is no corresponding strategy that would result in the expansion of the quality of life of South Texans. The proposed construction of a massive infrastructure in Brownville is not, I suggest to you, a good use of resources. The UT System has failed to make a data and financial case statement for its high-priced proposals.
I thank you for your consideration.
Baltazar Acevedo y Arispe, Jr., Ph.D., is the founder of the Borderland Consulting Group of Waco, Texas. He is a retired public school teacher from Muleshoe, Texas.