McALLEN, Texas – When he assumed the role of chairman of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in June, McAllen resident Fred Farias, III, said he would bring key stakeholders to the Rio Grande Valley.

It has not taken him long to deliver. On Wednesday, Aug. 11, Farias will welcome Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Harrison Keller at a breakfast hosted by the McAllen Chamber of Commerce.

Farias, an optometrist, chairs the McAllen Chamber’s governmental affairs committee. He was appointed chair of THECB in June by Gov. Greg Abbott.

“We are now in a leadership position so that we can hopefully make a big difference down here in the Valley and South Texas. As you know, being the chair of any state agency is a big deal because we are able to get stakeholders down here,” Farias told the Rio Grande Guardian, earlier this summer.

Asked about the visit of Keller, Farias said: “We want to really let Dr. Keller know what is going on in the Valley. The coordinating board, as you probably know, is in charge of student loan programs worth $3.1 billion. We also have an economic development and workforce component. We are able to provide programs and degrees, the sorts of programs that McAllen EDC and the other economic development corporations in the Valley are looking for. With SpaceX, for example, we need a well-educated population. We need to be able to fill these jobs as more and more companies want to come to the Valley. It all ties in. Education ties in with all of that. It is very important for the Valley.”

The McAllen Chamber’s breakfast event with Keller is already fully booked. It takes place between  8a.m. and 9:15 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 11, at The Old Church, 700 N. Main Street in McAllen. Sponsors of the event include Texas Gas Service, McAllen Economic Development Corporation, McAllen Chamber of Commerce, UT-Rio Grande Valley, South Texas College, and Texas A&M University.

Farias was on the national search committee that hired Keller. He is just starting his second year as commissioner. 

“Dr. Keller has a great background. He is Notre Dame undergraduate and has a PhD in philosophy from George Washington. We want him to know the Valley really well because he has got a great policy mind. He used to work in the Texas Legislature for a former speaker. And so he knows his way around the Capitol. He is very in-tune with higher education policy,” Farias said.

“Key players in higher education and business want to meet with him because we want to show him what the Valley has to offer and the potential we have for higher education and investing in our area to help our students. And not only students but also those in mid-career and those that want to go back. Because of the pandemic there are a lot of people that want to change careers or who are looking for new job opportunities. We are seeing that all over the country and in higher education.” 

Farias said Keller is “very involved” with a tri-agency initiative launched by Gov. Abbott. It brings together THECB, the Texas Education Agency, and the Texas Workforce Commission. 

“What everybody wants to do is have that trig-agency improve workforce and have companies that are coming to Texas and to the Valley to be able to have the educated workforce we need. It all starts with education,” Farias said.

“So this visit is a great opportunity for us to showcase higher education in the Valley with the economic development part of it, to see what employers are looking for. The reason they choose the Valley or don’t choose the Valley is having great education and having great healthcare. And having great restaurants and entertainment. It takes a lot of different entities to make economic growth in a community.”

Farias added: “We need to get these key stakeholders down here. There is a lot of great stuff going on in higher education. It has been a big challenge with the pandemic. But getting leaders to come down and see what the differences are in the Valley, to see the challenges and the opportunities, is so important.”

Fred Farias’ biography

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Dr. Harrison Keller. (Photo credit: Harvard University).

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