The recent announcement by the Chancellor of the Texas A&M University System that it will be opening an academic center in McAllen reminded me of the Aggie jokes that were so pervasive in the past century.
One may now hear, “what do you call an Aggie who graduated from the McAllen Texas A&M Center?” A Wannabe Aggie. I know what it takes to be an Aggie. Lots of my dear friends are Aggies who are committed to excellence, tradition and a sense of community. Of course, they have learned to suffer from not having us UT Tea Sips paying any mind to them.
It is rather telling when the most insightful responses from south Texans are the Facebook posts wherein Aggies are encouraged to “gig em.” It is obviously a clueless response from a cadre of uninformed and misinformed Borderlanders. This response comes in the shared glee to the recent announcement that the graduates of the south Texas site will receive their diplomas from the Flagship at College Station. I am certain that the College Station Aggies are pleased at having their degrees devalued. Is this an overture that will also be extended to the other Texas A&M University sites across the state? And no, there will not be two flagship institutions in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, as McAllen Mayor Jim Darling proclaimed. It does not work that way. One can only tolerate so much naiveté.
As a retired academic, researcher and policy scholar, I am curious as to how this whole initiative came about. It seems that the Texas A&M University System kept its strategy [I use the term rather loosely here] shrouded in secrecy. Elected leaders in south Texas again proclaim this announcement another equalizer “and” game changer.” How many of these game changers do we need before we actually win? We Mexican Americans are used to this type of top-down pronouncements since they are indeed helping us Brown people with another rather patronizing initiative.
The legislative leadership of south Texas and the congressional leaders for this region need to be held accountable for their recent pronouncements that the new UTRGV was going to be the next great comprehensive international university. Did they fail to go far enough and why is it now necessary to bring the Texas A&M System into the fold? Is the plan that was used to develop UTRGV missing some essential elements? The usual suspects of south Texas leaders were present at the recent photo op to announce this Texas A&M initiative. At least their “leadership” has once again been affirmed. Did any of them really have a clue as to what was transpiring after they invested so much political capital in getting the UT System to create UTRGV?
I would like for Chancellor John Sharp to consider to the following:
• Where are the data, that was collected and analyzed by the Texas A&M University System, that show that there is a gap in the current capacity of the multitude of post-secondary colleges and universities that serve the Lower Region Grande Valley [UTRGV Edinburg, UTRGV Brownsville, SCT, TSTC, TSC, the A&M Engineering Program in Weslaco and the seven institutions at the Harlingen University Center]? At this point in time we cannot say that there is a scarcity of higher education resources in south Texas as was the case in 1985. There is no gap in the availability of resources but rather in the outcomes as demonstrated by college and university graduates that are prepared to compete in a global economy.
• Where is the Texas Coordinating Board for Higher Education in all of this? This action by the Texas A&M University System sends a clear message that this Texas oversight agency is no longer necessary and should be eliminated.
• Did A&M canvass the diverse communities of the Lower Grande Valley to obtain input to determine the need for an institution of the largesse of Texas A&M to come to this region? Was the planning process an inclusive one or did it resemble the old “hacienda model” that was directed at taking care of the peasants without their input? “Muchas gracias Patron. May I have another taco, por please?”
• Does Texas A&M possess an analysis of data that informs its strategy for how it will expand the number of college ready students that it will fill the K-12 pipeline from the thirty-seven school districts in Region 1?
• Why did Texas A&M chose McAllen for this initiative? Why not the Delta Area which is clamoring for a post-secondary education institution? U.S. Congressman Rubén Hinojosa should have advocated for the farmers’ market site across from Edcouch-Elsa so that he can recover some political capital from this debacle. It is rather apparent that the future Nexus of development is McAllen and its private sector and medical leadership. The eastern portions of the Rio Grande Valley that are comprised of Willacy and Cameron Counties are minor appendages and an afterthought.
• Better still; consider the former UT Brownsville area, which is being neglected by the rush of the UT System to buttress both the new medical school and to create an impression that there is indeed something going on in Edinburg.
• How is the Texas A&M University System, and for that matter, any university or college along the Texas/Mexican border going to identify and recruit a cadre of top quality scholars, teachers and researchers? This is an area that I research and know very well and the talent stream for academia, especially of ethnic scholars, is rather dry. I recall one candidate for a professorship at UTPA inquiring as to why he should move his family and household to south Texas. No answer was forthcoming from the search committee or me. As for me, I had already packed my books to head north of the Sarita Border Patrol Checkpoint. He did not accept our offer.
There are other issues and questions, besides the current Texas A&M University proposal, that need to be considered. Among those are:
• Why did the Chancellor of the Texas A&M University System wait until the most recent legislative session was over to bring forth this proposal? Mind you, this is the same individual who sponsored and shepherded the 1985 report, Bordering the Future in South Texas. This report addressed the status of the social conditions along the Texas/Mexico border that have not changed much in thirty years. What has John Sharp done during that time span to improve the quality of life of south Texans?
• The continuing under funding of Texas public schools, especially in south Texas, leads to inadequate services to an expanding student population. It seems, to me, that this issue that does not yield a passionate response from south Texas leaders.
• The number of students that are enrolled in Advanced Placement or STEM education needs to be increased so that the pipeline has highly qualified applicants for higher education enrollment.
• The percentages of students, which is graduating from the thirty-seven school districts in Region 1, and are enrolling in colleges and universities, needs attention. Do we know where they are and how they are doing at their respective institutions?
• The number of students that are graduating within four years [a dismal ten percent to 12 percent in south Texas] is insufficient and needs to be expanded through more scholarships and retention directed support services. A recent report from Complete College America, a nonprofit organization, focused on increasing college graduation rates, tracked higher education students in 33 states, including Texas, with data provided by state governors. It is the first report to take track both full- and part-time students working to complete certificate, associates and bachelors in order to understand and evaluate the challenges they face. Among full-time students, 60.8 percent in bachelor degree programs attain this four-year degree within eight years, and this is as good as the statistics get. By comparison, only 24.3 percent of part-time bachelor degree students get their degree within eight years. Of concern here is how are south Texas institutions of higher education performing in the graduation of their students. Does anyone know?
• Why is there not a greater effort to ameliorate college student debt by the state of Texas? What do the UT University System and Texas A&M University System know about student debt in south Texas and what are they doing to impede it? In 2013, seven in 10 (69 percent) graduating seniors at public and private nonprofit colleges had student loans. These borrowers owed an average of $28,400 in federal and private loans combined, up two percent compared to their peers in 2012. What do we know of the typical debt of south Texas College and University students?
It is rather interesting to note the resounding silence of the academic community in south Texas and the superintendents in Region 1. The UT System is getting brow beaten by the Texas A&M University again. There appears to be more interest, by the UT System, to stem the demise of the Texas Longhorns than in what happens in south Texas higher education. I was under the impression that the new UT System Chancellor was a tough hombre. If so, I suggest that he cowboy up and go to College Station and challenge the current initiative of Chancellor Sharp.
The only recommendation that I will put forth is that the Texas A&M System should focus on expanding the educational pipeline from the Pre-K to 12th grade level. It could do so by inviting Dr. Danny King, the Superintendent of the Pharr, San Juan, Alamo School District to guide its community engagement and family development initiatives.
As for the rest of the silent Borderlanders, you are getting the leadership that you deserve. Pobre el Valle, tan cerca de Mexico y tan legos de Austin y College Station.