HARLINGEN, Texas – Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell says his city now has its first general education university campus, thanks to a unique partnership between the local school district and UTRGV.

Harlingen CISD and UT-Rio Grande Valley are developing an early college high school where students will take courses that go towards a university degree.

On behalf of the City of Harlingen, Boswell signed an agreement with UTRGV and HCISD to donate seven acres of land for the project. The market value of the land is around a million dollars, Boswell said.

“It is absolutely fair to say we have a university, UTRGV in Harlingen. It is significant,” Boswell told the Rio Grande Guardian. “It is not just an early college campus. It is a general education campus of UTRGV. For the first time we have a dedicated UTRGV general campus. It is a university presence that we have never really had before.”

Boswell was one of three VIPs to speak at the tri-agency signing ceremony. Another was UT System Regent Nolan Perez, a physician from Harlingen.

In his remarks, Perez said something special is happening in Harlingen and it is being noticed around the state of Texas. Boswell said he liked what Perez had to say.

“I agree with him. Something special is happening the city of Harlingen. In particular we have formed some really great partnerships with the school district and also with UTRGV.

Boswell said broad community support is important for both public education and higher education.

“If we are not engaged and trying to grease that wheel, I think we miss out on opportunities. So, we have been very proactive in trying to see more development with UTRGV. But also to strengthen our partnership with our public schools.”

Asked what the new early college campus means for the young people in his community, Boswell said:

“For the residents of our community to get on public transportation, to come to this campus, do their first and second year of college before they get out of high school and then continue and complete a university degree right here in the same place without every having to leave the city limits of Harlingen, it is a great opportunity.”

Boswell said the fact that UTRGV is offering tuition free programs for families earning less than $70,000 a year will make the new campus even more special.

“It just provides so much more access to higher education and strengthening our workforce and getting a more educated workforce in our community so it is just very positive for everyone involved.”

Perez’s perspective

UT System Regent Nolan Perez

In his remarks from the podium, UT System Regent Perez said Harlingen has always had a culture of collaboration.

“This is yet another symbolic day because of the collective impact approach you have taken that is really spreading across the region so well,” Perez said.

“Today we are here to celebrate a great day, an historic day, thanks to the generosity and the leadership and the vision of the City of Harlingen. Without the generous donation of the land, this would not be possible. Mayor and commissioners, thank you for that.”

Perez said the new early college high school will have three career pathways: computer sciences, engineering, and teacher preparation. Perez said he was particularly pleased that the latter was being offered.

“Teachers make all professions possible. So, I think it is very, very, important, that we are doubling down on the strength that I think is in Harlingen. The strength of providing holistic, rigorous education for each and everyone of our students. In order to do that it is time to grow our own teachers,” he said.

Perez said Harlingen has been visited by some important people and groups in recent months. He said many are asking for more information about the new UTRGV-HCIS collaboration.

“The Chancellor’s council executive committee was down here. Apple has been visiting. Numerous other visitors from around the state haver visited. One of the things that gravitate them towards us is, ‘tell me what is happening in Harlingen. Tell us what is happening with this new campus, this early college high school campus’.”

Perez said when these visitors learn about the alignment between Harlingen’s public schools and UTRGV, “everybody is blown away.”

Perez said there is a lot of trust at the UT System for UTRGV because of the trust the regents have for Dr. Guy Bailey, the university’s president. In turn, Perez said, Bailey is lucky to work with Dr. Art Cavazos, superintendent of HCISD.

“Dr. Bailey is so lucky to work with Dr. Cavazos in so many different ways and with so many different projects. You guys really are the dynamic duo in the state of Texas. I really do feel you are creating a model campus here, with the partnership with UTRGV.”

Perez finished his remarks by noting the success of public schools in Region One, noting that all had achieved an “A” or “B” rating from the Texas Education Agency.

“The highest high school graduation rates in the state of Texas, right here in Region One, in the Valley. What Dr. Bailey and his team are doing right now is nothing short of remarkable. Leaning back and creating alignment and really connecting with Pre-K thru 12, across the region, to create pipeline programs and pathways so that we can get to our next goal, which is to be the region in Texas with the highest college graduation rates.”

Perez won a round of applause for that remark. He said if the Valley could secure the highest college graduation rates it would be “transformative” for students, their families, and region. “Not just high school degrees but college degrees,” he said.

Bailey’s perspective

UT-Rio Grande Valley President Guy Bailey

In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, UTRGV President Bailey said the early college high school being developed by the university and HCISD is unique.

“When you think of an early college high school, this is how it should be done. Our students will graduate as juniors in high school, everything they take will not only count as college credit, it will count toward their degree. That is a key distinction you need to make,” Bailey said.

“Almost every college course, you can get credit for it. Will it count towards your degree? We are committed to that. That is so important in helping students graduate in a timely manner and keeping their debt low.”

Cavazos’ perspective

Harlingen CISD Superintendent Art Cavazos

HCISD Superintendent Cavazos agreed with Bailey’s viewpoint that the school district’s partnership with UTRGV was unprecedented.

“What is unique about this partnership is we are back-mapping baccalaureate degrees into the high schools. So the students are actually starting as early as 9th grade, beginning to get student experiences, summer experiences, to prepare them in the soft skills needed to persist in a baccalaureate degree,” Cavazos said.

“We are super excited because kids will be able to start their baccalaureate pathways as early as 10th and 11th grade.”

Cavazos said that sometimes, in distributive model college and university, which UTRGV is, access and economics can be a problem.

“We are removing those barriers for the Harlingen community and we are super excited. This is not only going to change generations from here on out but it is really a remarkable signal that bringing different public entities together to create a unique space and a unique partnership is what is possible. And so today we broke glass ceilings and we actually showed what is actually possible when people come together and do the right thing for the kids. I often say, the children are waiting for the adults to get it right. Well, we got it right today.”

Asked why the new collaboration is unique, Cavazos said:

“We have dual credit programs in our high schools and we have dual credit programs throughout our public school system. What is unique here is we are going to have baccalaureate pathways. Often times, some of the programs are leading to an associate degree. When you start a baccalaureate pathway you are signaling to students, this is possible and you are already in college and in a university.”

Cavazos said HCISD has “wanted be part of the distribution” ever since UTRGV focused on adopting a distributive campus model.

“That is critical to us because it signals to this whole community and all our students and staff and to our parents that the university is here. Any excuse that bubbles up, we are eliminating those barriers. We want access to be a priority.”

Asked if Harlingen now has a university, Cavazos said: “There is a university in Harlingen that allows baccalaureate pathways. There are some other universities that might offer some courses, this is an entire pathway to a baccalaureate degree.”

Cavazos thanked the City of Harlingen for donating the land for the new early college high school to UTRGV. He said his school district’s commitment is to build the campus. He said the new high school could be open by August 2021.

“This is historic for Harlingen public schools and the community. We serve as an example of what is possible when we work together.”

This podcast features the remarks made Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell, UT-Rio Grande Valley President Guy Bailey, and UT System Regent Nolan Perez from the podium:

This podcast features interviews with UT-Rio Grande Valley President Guy Bailey, Harlingen CISD Superintendent Art Cavazos, and Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell: