McALLEN, RGV – U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa says the planned Texas A&M University campus in McAllen can benefit immediately from federal funds reserved exclusively for minority-serving institutions.

Hinojosa said up to $2.5 billion has been reserved for minority-serving institutions over the next ten years and that each year $221 million is made available for Hispanic-serving institutions. To qualify, Hinojosa said, a university has to have a student body that is approximately 25 percent Hispanic.

U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa
U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa

“There is no doubt at all that this A&M campus is going to qualify for that type of investment and I am going to make sure we get it,” Hinojosa said. “This investment will help us with recruitment of faculty, mentoring, tutoring, computers, etc.”

Hinojosa said if it were not for the hard work of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus the pot of money available for minority-serving institutions would be a lot smaller.

“When I entered Congress in 1997, minority-serving institutions received $10 million annually. Thanks to the three caucuses working together we have got that up to $2.5 billion over ten years,” Hinojosa said. “In the case of this A&M campus it is going to help change the Valley forever. Many hardworking families are looking forward to sending their students to a university within a short radius. This university will be affordable and accessible.”

The Mercedes Democrat was one of a handful of Rio Grande Valley leaders who played a key role in landing a satellite campus of Texas A&M College Station. Three times over the past 14 months Hinojosa visited College Station for meetings with Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp. The other leaders who worked on the project were McAllen businessman Alonzo Cantu, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia and state Sen. Juan Hinojosa.

Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia
Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia

At a news conference held at McAllen City Hall, Rep. Hinojosa said he wants to work with Sharp and Texas A&M University President Michael K. Young to ensure the new campus benefits also from a new state initiative. In July, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board adopted its 2015-2030 Higher Education Strategic Plan. The plan seeks to have at least 60 percent of Texans aged 25 to 34 with a certificate or a degree by 2030.

“As ranking member of the higher education committee in Congress, I told John Sharp that I want to be able to bring out the programs that will allow us to achieve that 60-30 plan. He said he wants to work with me on this.”

Asked how McAllen landed A&M, Hinojosa said: “It came about by everyone working together. This announcement shows the value of partnerships. It is a partnership of federal, state and local leaders.”

In his remarks at the news conference, Judge Garcia spoke about the history of higher education in the Valley. He said educators and community leaders would never have imagined how big the region could become when they launched Pan American Junior College back in 1927.

Garcia referenced a 1996 Wall Street Journal business section article about Pan American University and how it sought to develop a middle class in a heavily Hispanic area. The article quoted a young lawyer as saying, “We went from picking cotton to where we are now and I can tell you it is a lot better. It would not have happened without Pan Am. Most everybody I grew up with went to Pan Am. It was a way out.” Garcia said that statement could have been made by several thousand Pan Am graduates.

“Pan American provided many of us with an opportunity to become educated,” Garcia said. He pointed out that back in the 1980s he had been appointed to the Pan American board of trustees by Gov. Mark White. During that time he went to Austin to secure funding for the university and, with the help of state Sen. Carlos Truan, came back with $30 million. “We thought we had hit the mother lode,” Garcia said.

Garcia said he recounted this story to make a point about the importance of the Permanent University Fund, a pot of money that, until the advent of UT-Rio Grande Valley last year, was off limits to the Valley. To loud applause, Garcia said that since last year UT has invested approximately $500 million from the Permanent University Fund in the Valley and has committed another $250 million this year. Garcia said this figure will increase with the establishment of Texas A&M University in the Valley.

Bobby Villarreal, executive director of Hidalgo County, told the Rio Grande Guardian how the tweaking of a tax increment reinvestment zone (TIRZ) agreement with the developers of the Tres Lagos subdivision helped to secure the Texas A&M campus in McAllen. The campus is to be built within the subdivision, in northwest McAllen.

“The county’s commitment to this project will be anywhere from zero to a maximum of $6.8 million over a period of about 20 years. If there is a shortage in the payment of the bond the City of McAllen is taking out, we will make our contribution based on taxes generated by the new development inside this zone. McAllen is going to issue a $10 million bond and pay through their TIRZ. If it goes according to plan they will not need us. If there is a shortage in paying off the bond we will contribute via our TIRZ agreement,” Villarreal said. “The economic return on this campus is immeasurable. There is no way to quantify it. It will be off the charts. San Antonio, Houston, Austin, Dallas, they all have more than one university. Why not us?”

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling
McAllen Mayor Jim Darling

Mayor Darling told the Rio Grande Guardian that McAllen’s investment in the project will come out of the increased value of the Tres Lagos development. “It is not money out of our pocket. It is money coming from the reinvestment zone. If the project is as successful, as we think it will be, it will not cost the taxpayers anything,” Darling said.

Darling paid tribute to Tres Lagos developer Mike Rhodes and his team. “We took A&M to different locations around the city and they liked that location the best. They wanted 100 acres and there are not many pockets of land that big available,” Darling said.

Asked how the Texas A&M campus project came about, Darling said: “John Sharp and Alonzo (Cantu) have a great relationship so I think the conversation started there. We wanted an education institution established here. I started going up to College Station for conversations. Once John Sharp commits to something he does it. I would also like to thank the Chancellor. He is a great guy. Also the president and Billy Hamilton. Their staff are really behind this.”

Asked why he and city leaders would build a campus in an area not well served mobility-wise, Darling said: “Monte Cristo is very well developed from I-69 Central all the way to McColl. It is only another couple of miles to Ware Road, which is where the subdivision will start. We will also expand Ware Road. The infrastructure will come,” Darling said.

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp.
Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp.

Asked how big the A&M campus could become, Darling said: “I represented South Texas College when it started out and we had three or four old economic development buildings. We had 500 students. Drive by the Pecan Campus now and see what South Texas College has done. It is huge. That potential is here too. Not only A&M but UTRGV too. Both presidents have gone before the Coordinating Board. They see this as an opportunity not to compete but to complement each other. They will feed off each other and make each other better. It is very exciting, a game changer.”

Mike Rhodes, developer of Tres Lagos, said: “Tuesday’s announcement by Chancellor Sharp, along with McAllen Mayor Jim Darling and Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia signaled an unprecedented public-private-City-County partnership; one that will lead to economic development, job creation and excellence in education that this Rio Grande Valley region has never experienced before,” Rhodes said.

Chancellor Sharp said: “We are excited to be exploring this opportunity in McAllen and we look forward to expanding Texas A&M’s presence here. We hope to establish first a teaching center and ultimately a branch campus that will provide students an outstanding option for higher education in the Valley.”

President Young said: “This important new presence in South Texas enables Texas A&M to provide additional academic and leadership development opportunities to young people in fulfillment of our land-grant mission and lays the foundation for many more related opportunities in the future. We are proud of our long association with the Rio Grande Valley and look forward to building on the area’s tremendous economic growth and development for the benefit of all.”

Sen. Hinojosa said: “Education is the best equalizer. Texas A&M’s proposed teaching center in McAllen will provide more opportunities for our Valley residents. We need to keep expanding education to keep up with our growing populations that are demanding new facilities and opportunities for educational success. I look forward to working with Texas A&M in this new endeavor.”