AUSTIN, Texas – UT-Rio Grande Valley students can get their tuition and fees paid for four years and two years of free housing – but they will have to agree to stay in the Valley for five years after graduating. 

Details on the Pinnacle Scholarship program – designed to stop the Valley’s Brain Drain – were outlined by UTRGV President Guy Bailey during a virtual meeting of the UT System Board of Regents. 

“If you are admitted to this Pinnacle Scholars Program and you meet all the benchmarks and you progress, you can graduate from medical school or the PA program, the nursing program, having never paid any tuition or fee,” Bailey told the UT System regents.

“You should be able to graduate debt free. Or with very minimal debt. That is our goal. We think we can get the best students in the Valley that way.”

Guy Bailey

Then came the kicker.

“Now, we are going to ask something from those students. We will ask students to sign an agreement that you will commit to live in the Rio Grande Valley, once you graduate. We have made an investment in you and we will ask you to make that same investment in the Rio Grande Valley. So, that is a key for us moving forward.”

Bailey said funding for the scholarship program will come for a $40 million gift from philanthropists Dan Jewett and MacKenzie Scott. “As all of you know we received a $40 million gift from Mackenzie Scott. What that is going to help us do is transform our undergraduate student body,” Bailey told the regents.

Thuy Dan “Mimi” Nguyen is the UT student on the UT System board of regents. She praised Bailey for the new plan.

“I think the Pinnacle Scholarship is a great idea. I know over at the law school we have something similar for public interest students. If they commit to working in the public interest for a certain period of time they receive a scholarship. I think this not only betters the community but traditionally helps those that are disadvantaged,” Nguyen said.

Bailey said there were a number of key takeaways about UTRGV wants to do over the next five years. 

“We want to transform our undergraduate student body. We are doing a nice job providing education for students but we are losing a lot of the best students in the Valley. Parents come up to me all the time. My son or daughter got a scholarship and went away somewhere else and they are not going to ever move back to the Valley,” Bailey said.

“And so there is a lot of pressure on us to keep our best students in the Rio Grand Valley. Not just in school but after school. And so that’s part of our plan. To do this we are going to need to transform our campus life and we hope to work with some private partners to do some public-private partnerships to transform our campus life, make this a better place to live and go to school. And we think that will help us with our retention rates and a number of things.”

Bailey’s presentation to the UT System recents included a long-range financial plan. He talked about a $285 million investment.

“We assume steady revenue growth and very small tuition increases. In fact, we have not built in any tuition increases into the financial plans you see. We assume modest increases in states appropriations but we also assume some enrollment growth in our institution. We assume the continued expansion of our clinical services, accelerated research activity and the execution of a clinical transformation plan,” Bailey said.

Bailey told the regents that UTRGV had “created the financial strength and stability to help us do some important things in the future.” He then listed the university’s goals.

“Our goal is really to be a national leader in higher education, to provide really first rate general and professional education, education of the highest quality while mailing very low student debt. Very low student debt is very important to us,” Bailey said, pointing out that amongst national public universities, UTRGV has the least amount of student debt. 

School of Medicine and clinical expansion

Bailey said clinical expansion is also a top priority. 

“Our medical school has been so crucial. Covid really brought out the importance of our medical school. But, we need to continue the clinical expansion, to transform healthcare in the Rio Grande Valley,” Bailey said. 

“We provide medical specialities that were never in the Valley before. We have tripled the number of medical residents in the Valley and we have a great administrative team in place too.”

Bailey said UTRGV is going to have to do more in Cameron County.

“We need to expand our residency programs and also the number of residents in the Rio Grande Valley, especially in Cameron County. By entering into new agreements with hospitals in Brownsville and McAllen and we are currently working on that,” Bailey said.

“We also need to expand our healthcare options in the Rio Grande Valley by building the Cancer and Infusion Center that I mentioned earlier on property you approved in your last meeting. What we call the 495 property for us. We need to continue to hire physicians and specialties that are underrepresented in the Valley. And we would also like to buy into some other surgery centers and facilities, especially in Cameron County. So that we can ensure that we have full reach across the Valley.”

Bailey added: “And then we want to build a research operation that generates $100 million in research. And we will do that by focusing on the clinical research enterprise.”

Dr. Nolan Perez, a UT System regent from Harlingen, was full of praise for Bailey and the direction he was taking UTRGV. 

“I am really excited about the growth of UTRGV and the impact it is having in the community on all fronts: academic, healthcare, research and innovation. You really have an amazing value proposition for higher education,” Perez said.

“You are just growing so fast. I joke with you and others… you may be solving 60×30 by yourself, the way you are growing, on the academic side.”

Perez also praised the work of the School of Medicine. He said its impact was incredible.

“I know you are growing so fast and it is so important for our region so I just want to commend you and your team for the vision, but not only your vision, your ideas, but the way you so successfully implement and operationalize your ideas. And so I am really excited for the future. We are really lucky to have you there,” Perez told Bailey.

Editor’s Note: Here is an audio recording of President Bailey’s entire presentation to the UT System Board of Regents:

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