MCALLEN, RGV – Providing a quality education for students in the Rio Grande Valley reached a new milestone Thursday with a decision by the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents in College Station.

Regents approved an action item to move forward with planning and design of a $40 million Multipurpose Academic Building within the Tres Lagos master-planned development in north McAllen. In time, Valley leaders hope the facility will become a fully-fledged A&M campus.

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

The Texas A&M System is one of the largest systems of higher education in the nation, with a budget of $4.2 billion. Through a statewide network of 11 universities, seven state agencies, two service units and a comprehensive health science center, the A&M System educates more than 140,000 students and makes more than 22 million additional educational contacts through service and outreach programs each year. System-wide, externally funded research expenditures exceed $932 million and help drive the state’s economy.

“The Regents’ vote to move this (McAllen) project to the Capital Plan signals our continued efforts to seek appropriate approvals from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and other accrediting bodies to deliver high quality educational experience in the Rio Grande Valley,” said John Sharp, Chancellor of The Texas A&M University System, in a news release. “The excellence of Texas A&M is a perfect fit for McAllen, one of the country’s fastest growing cities and an economic engine for the region and state. It will be exciting to witness that first group of Aggies going to class in McAllen.”

Sharp said that by amending the System’s capital plan, the Board is allowing Texas A&M University to initiate design and concepts of a planned 60,000 square-foot facility that will ultimately include classrooms, laboratories, faculty and administrative support offices, as well as student services and gathering spaces befitting the academic degree programs and courses to be delivered.

“The facility represents our highest ideals in outreach and cooperation and enthusiastically reaffirms our commitment to this partnership in McAllen,” said Texas A&M University President Michael K. Young. “We recognize there are other quality educational opportunities in McAllen and that our Tier 1 Institution will supplement and enhance the overall opportunity available to the community.”

The approval of the action item delighted Valley leaders.

“Texas A&M University has a big presence, not only in the Rio Grande Valley, but all of South Texas,” said state Sen. Juan Hinojosa of McAllen. “This will help expand educational opportunities to everyone in the Valley and we look forward to working with A&M to continue improving access to higher education.”

Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia said the approval of the action item brings the Valley one step closer to providing another higher education option for local students. “This is a game-changer for the Rio Grande Valley,” Garcia said. “Hidalgo County is proud to partner with City of McAllen and Texas A&M University. Education is the great equalizer. On behalf of Hidalgo County, I would like to thank Chancellor John Sharp and the Texas A&M Board of Regents for their confidence and investment in South Texas.”

The capital planning also works to support the university’s abilities to continue negotiations with the City of McAllen. The City is supporting Texas A&M University’s plans for the higher education site by issuing bonds to commit up to $10 million towards the construction. The City is also committed to installing utilities and infrastructure connections for the 100-acre tract at Tres Lagos.

According to the Texas A&M news release, Dr. Karan Watson, provost and executive vice president, and Dr. Jim Nelson, University project coordinator, are leading a multi-college taskforce in a community and industry assessment over the next few months in preparation of Texas A&M’s formal request to establish the higher education center and approval to deliver courses leading to Texas A&M University degrees at the site.

“We still have considerable work to do in finalizing our proposal to the Coordinating Board, regional accreditors and appropriate discipline accrediting agencies,” said Provost Watson.

In September, Texas A&M University announced its intention to partner with City of McAllen on a higher education center. All indications have been for at least four to six degree programs initially to be offered with enrollments beginning in Fall 2017, depending on facilities and student interest. Texas A&M currently serves over 1,600 students from the four counties of Hidalgo, Cameron, Starr and Willacy, with over 3,600 former students in the region as well.

“The City of McAllen and the Texas Rio Grande Valley have traditionally lagged behind the State of Texas and the US on economic metrics including unemployment and low income numbers. We have made strides in addressing those issues (unemployment rate is down and per capita income up) by working with our local partners in education,” said McAllen Mayor Jim Darling. “But there is much more work to do in providing educational opportunities for our students. That is why being able to provide our students with a Texas A&M education in our own backyard is a dream come true. It is not only for our kids today but for generations to come.”

Darling added: “The City of McAllen is excited about our joint venture with The Texas A&M University System because of our shared vision and goals. We know that the McAllen Multipurpose Academic Building is the foundation for the future. On behalf of the citizens of McAllen, I would like to extend our appreciation and gratitude to the Board of Regents, Chancellor Sharp, the Texas A&M University administrators and local A&M alumni who will help make this a reality.”

According to the Texas A&M news release, Texas A&M’s Facilities Planning and Construction will bring forward a request for construction authorization at a future Board of Regents meeting following design, city negotiations and programming approvals.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows the Texas A&M University System’s Board of Regents. Pictured, front row, are Judy Morgan, Elaine Mendoza, Cliff Thomas (chairman) and Phil Adams. Pictured, back row, are Morris E. Foster, Williams ‘Bill’ Mahomes, Charles W. Schwartz, Robert L. Albritton, and Anthony G. Buzbee. Not pictured is Alvaro Gabriel Pereira.