MCALLEN, RGV – When the McAllen Economic Development Corporation started out 29 years ago there were 14,000 students attending UT-Pan American.

Now, there are 27,551 students at UTPA’s successor, UT-Rio Grande Valley. Couple this with the 33,995 students at South Texas College and it shows that educational opportunities are improving all the time.

This is the view of Keith Patridge, president of McAllen EDC. After hearing about the latest student enrollment numbers from UTRGV and STC representatives at last week’s MEDC board meeting, Patridge said:

Keith Patridge
Keith Patridge

“It’s kind of interesting from the educational standpoint. When you add STC and UTRGV together, we have almost 62,000 students in higher education. I think that is really good, considering when we started out 29 years ago, STC did not exist and UTPA had about 14,000 students. We have made great headway in this area. This is going to be key to filling in the work slots we have coming in. It is something to think about.”

McAllen EDC works to bring in new manufacturing businesses to McAllen and Reynosa. Patridge said that on the U.S. side, seven new companies are close to signing agreements. He said these seven companies would bring with them 2,190 new jobs, absorbing close to 4,000 square feet of space. “It is about $48 million of new investment,” Patridge said.

The STC report was given to the MEDC board by Mario Reyna, the college’s dean of business and technology.

“I got the final count last night. We have 33,995 students. We dropped over 1,000 students for non-payment (of tuition fees). So, it gives you an idea of what is going on out there,” Reyna said. “Construction is going to start on a lot of buildings. We are going to have at least five or six new buildings by the start of next fall.”

Included in all of the STC construction is a new campus for public safety. “This is campus is going to be on Cage, right before you cross the levee. There is about 70 acres that was donated to us by the City of Pharr,” Reyna said.

Reyna said he was pleased to report that the advanced manufacturing department continues to grow. He said enrollment has grown ten percent, with nine or ten full time staff. In 1996, when the program started, there was only one full-time staff member.

“The most exciting thing is the construction. You are going to see a lot of dust, from Weslaco to Rio Grande City. We expect to have everything ready by January 2018,” Reyna said.

The UTRGV report was given by Miguel Gonzalez, the university’s former dean of engineering.

“We have opened up our fall semester. The headcount is not official yet but it is hovering around 28,000 students, total,” Gonzalez said. “We have a lot of activity going on in the research office. The number of proposals is continuing to grow. There is a lot of construction, with the inclusion of the medical school. Our research expenditures are up substantially. We are working to bring additional opportunities for our students, to develop high tech jobs for our students.”

The day after the MEDC meeting, Gonzalez and Patridge jetted off to Japan and Indonesia to try to bring more manufacturing jobs to the region. Also on the trip were MEDC Chairman Robert Lozano, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, Theresa A. Maldonado, senior vice president of Research, Innovation, and Economic Development at UTRGV, Andreas Holzenburg, associate vice president for research infrastructure at UTRGV, and Carlos Margo, dean of industry training and economic development at South Texas College.

Miguel Gonzalez
Miguel Gonzalez

“We’re going to meet with some folks about some very, very, nice projects that, if we bring to fruition, will mean very good things for the Valley,” Gonzalez said.

On Monday, UTRGV made official the number of students attending the university this fall semester. The fall headcount enrollment stands at 27,551, a decrease of 1,105 students (3.9 percent) from last year.

UTRGV President Guy Bailey said the change was expected. The lower enrollment, he said, is largely a result of the more than 10,000 students who graduated from UTRGV and the legacy institutions, UTPA and UT-Brownsville, the past two years.

“Rather than try to make up for that large number by manipulating our admission requirements, we have adhered closely to the standards approved by the Board of Regents when UTRGV was being formed,” Bailey said. “Adhering to those standards has lowered our enrollment, but in the end, the number of students we graduate is more important than the number of students we enroll.”

As a result, Bailey said, UTRGV has welcomed a particularly strong entering freshman class, “one that most universities in Texas would envy.” Distinctions include:

•    One of five entering freshmen graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class;
•    More than 50 percent graduated in the top 25 percent;
•    The class also includes 13 percent more valedictorians and salutatorians compared to last year;

“Perhaps more importantly, we have been able to attract such an impressive freshman class without compromising access for students with financial need,” Bailey said. “As in past years, about two-thirds of the class is Pell eligible.”

Initial results regarding student success at UTRGV are also very encouraging, UTRGV said, in a news release. Preliminary freshman-sophomore retention rates for first-time full-time freshmen are at 80.0 percent, above last year’s state (72.4 percent) and national averages (78.6 percent), and six percentage points higher than the legacy institutions. “These retention rates would have been the third-highest in the UT System last year behind UT Austin and UT Dallas, two institutions with significantly higher admission standards,” the news release stated.

In addition, this year’s enrollment includes 272 more transfer students from last year, an increase of 26 percent. Also, the percentage of UTRGV students enrolled in 15 or more credit hours has grown dramatically this year, the news release stated, increasing from 24.3 percent to 32.5 percent.

“What this means is that one-third of our students are on a pathway that can lead to graduation in four years,” Bailey said. “It also means that, while our enrollment is down, our undergraduate student credit hours are actually up by more than 4,000 credit hours. It is clear that our new tuition plan, which guarantees rates for four years and caps tuition at 12 credit hours, is working just as we hoped it would.”