AUSTIN, Texas – Before the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved a new Texas A&M education center in McAllen last Thursday its commissioner highlighted what he called a “scary” statistic.

Raymund A. Paredes pointed to a recent ACT college readiness report that showed only 12 percent of Texas Latino students were college-ready in in all four disciplines that ACT tests – English Language Arts, Social Sciences, Science, and Math.

Paredes urged Texas A&M and UT-Rio Grande Valley to work together to improve that statistic.

“It seems to me a wonderful idea that people in the Rio Grande Valley will have access to the programs offered by one of the two flagship universities. That is an opportunity that young people down there have not had,” Paredes said, during a discussion about the new Texas A&M project in McAllen.

“The challenge, of course, is increasing the pool of students in that region that can do academic work of the highest levels.”

Paredes pointed to a report THECB received from ACT about six or seven weeks ago that said college readiness in Texas had gone down slightly compared to the previous year. He said the college readiness figure from ACT for Texas was about 26 percent across the board. “That is to say that 26 percent of the test-takers were college-ready in all four disciplines that ACT tests – English Language Arts, Social Sciences, Science, and Math,” Paredes said.

“But, here is the part that was scary and to me represents the most fundamental challenge that all of you have,” Paredes said. “The college readiness number percentage for Texas Latino students was 12 percent.” Paredes then pause for effect, allowing those in the meeting to take in that figure. “So you have a very small pool of students right now in that part of Texas (the Rio Grande Valley) that can do rigorous college work.”

Paredes said he believes there are “a lot of opportunities for cooperation” between the two systems, Texas A&M and UT, and the two institutions in the Rio Grande Valley, the Texas A&M institution in McAllen and UT-Rio Grande Valley.

“But, there’s nothing more important than working together to increase significantly college readiness in that part of Texas. Because 12 percent – and, of course, the majority of the students down there are Latino – is simply unacceptable.”

Paredes said the Valley’s high schools and the elementary schools “need all the help they can get.”

Paredes added: “It would be an extraordinary venture for both systems to work down there together to deal with that issue. You could establish a partnership that would be a model for the entire state of Texas. In fact, many parts of the southwestern United States, to have two powerhouse systems like yours working together to improve Latino student achievement down there.”

After Paredes made his comments, the THECB voted unanimously to approve Texas A&M’s new facility in McAllen and the first program it will be offering at the facility, a bachelor’s of science for interdisciplinary engineering. In attendance at the meeting were Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp and UT-Rio Grande Valley President Guy Bailey.

During the discussion about the new McAllen education center, the issue of program duplication came up. Rex Peebles, assistant commissioner for THECB, said that, initially, Texas A&M wanted to offer four programs at the McAllen center: a bachelor’s of science for interdisciplinary engineering, a bachelor’s of science in multidisciplinary engineering technology, a bachelor’s of science in biomedical sciences and a degree in agriculture.

Peebles pointed out that other education institutions within a 50-mile radius can object if they feel programs at a new institution would be a duplication. He said UTRGV registered objections to Texas A&M offering a bachelor’s of science in multidisciplinary engineering technology, and a bachelor’s of science in biomedical sciences.

“Generally speaking you have 30 days to try and resolve those issues,” Peebles said. “There was a meeting held between Texas A&M and UTRGV and I was notified that the objections were still raised by UTRGV.”

Peebles said UTRGV believes that if Texas A&M offered a bachelor’s of science in multidisciplinary engineering technology and a bachelor’s of science in biomedical sciences in McAllen, it would be “duplicative of programs already offered by UTRGV.”

But, Peebles said, they also promised to come together in the future to look at those programs and have further discussions about it. “So, as a result of that, those programs are up in the air, so to speak.”

UTRGV President Bailey told the meeting that Texas A&M’s proposed bachelor of science in interdisciplinary engineering program would “compliment” what UTRGV does.

“We do not think the center is in conflict especially if they will do things that we can’t do,” Bailey said.

He added that Texas A&M were to open a vet school, a law school, or offer a program in petroleum engineering, UTRGV would not object because UTRGV has no intention of providing education in any of these fields.a