EDINBURG, RGV – Rio Grande Valley legislators often say that the biggest statewide champion of the region is Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp.
Sharp’s discussions with Valley developer Alonzo Cantu about creating an A&M medical school in the Valley spurred the University of Texas System into action, lawmakers such as Juan Hinojosa, Eddie Lucio, Armando Martinez, Oscar Longoria and Terry Canales have often said, and the result was UT’s decision to create the UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine.
Now, Sharp has gone into bat for the Valley again, this time to ensure the UTRGV School of Medicine receives equitable funding for its students. Sharp has written a letter to Raymund A. Parades, commissioner for higher education in Texas, requesting that he and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board treat students from the state’s two new medical schools, one in the Valley and the other in Austin, on a par with students from other medical schools around the state.
“It is in the state’s best interest to provide a funding methodology for the new medical schools that is comparable to the existing schools, through the HRI formula, and we respectfully request that you support this position as well in your capacity as Commissioner,” Sharp wrote, in his letter to Paredes. The letter was co-signed by Michael K. Young, president of Texas A&M University. HRI stands for Health-Related Institutions.
Here is the letter in full:
October 5, 2015
Raymund A. Paredes, Ph.D.
Commissioner of Higher Education
Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
1200 E. Anderson Lane
Austin, TX 78752
Dear Commissioner Paredes:
As you know, Texas’ Health-Related Institutions provide critical health professions education, service and research to our state. HRI formula funding is vital to these institutions when it comes to meeting our health care workforce needs, providing life-saving research and innovations in the delivery of health care, expanding Graduate Medical Education opportunities throughout Texas.
We are keenly interested in the recommendations of the HRI Formula Advisory Committee, which will be submitted to you later this year. The Health-Related Institutions Formula Advisory Committee is meeting this Wednesday, October 7, 2015, and we understand that the committee will consider participation of the two new medical schools in the HRI Formula Funding model.
We believe the request of the UT-Austin Dell Medical School and the College of Medicine at UT Rio Grande Valley to be included in the HRI formula funding model should be granted, and we support their position. It is in the state’s best interest to provide a funding methodology for the new medical schools that is comparable to the existing schools, through the HRI formula, and we respectfully request that you support this position as well in your capacity as Commissioner.
John Sharp and Michael K. Young
Copies of the letter were sent to William McRaven, chancellor of the University of Texas System, Robert Duncan, chancellor of Texas Tech University System, Lee F. Jackson chancellor of the University of North Texas System, and Paul Klotman, M.D., president & CEO of Baylor College of Medicine.
The question of whether funding for the Valley and Austin medical schools should be treated differently to existing Health-Related Institutions around the state arose at last month’s meeting of the Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Health-Related Institutions Formula Advisory Committee.
At the group’s Sept. 9 meeting, Andrea Marks, representing UT Health Science Center-San Antonio, provided a report on the recommendations of a workgroup on formula funding for the new medical schools. According to the minutes of the meeting, Marks “discussed the guiding principles the workgroup developed and proposed that a new weight within the general academic institutions be created to fund the discipline of medicine at UT Austin and UTRGV.”
In other words, the new medical schools in the Valley and Austin should be treated as programs, not Health-Related Institutions and therefore they should be not be included in the formula funding for HRIs. Instead, their funding should be developed through the General Academic Institutions category.
Elmo Cavin, representing Texas Tech University Health Science Center moved that the report of the workgroup be adopted and Richard Lange, MD, representing Texas Tech University Health Science Center-El Paso, seconded the motion.
John McCall, representing UT-Austin Dell Medical School, moved to table the motion until the next meeting, “to allow for more time for discussion with leadership at the affected institutions.”
According to a spreadsheet produced by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, if UTRGV’s School of Medicine were to be included as a Health-Related Institution, the funding request for fiscal year 2018-19 would be $37.1 million. This would represent a 7,691.8 percent increase on the funding appropriated for fiscal year 2016-17, which was $476,180.
A medical school funding policy analyst who did not wish to be named said: “At the end of the day, this is an equality issue. It is about how we are going to treat these students. Why would we treat a medical school student from the Valley differently from a student from Southwestern? They are all going to be physicians. We want them all to have the best training possible.”
The analyst added that the state legislature will still have to weigh in on where the Valley and Austin medical schools are placed in the appropriations process. “The significant thing here is we are seeing a chancellor of a university system get involved at the advisory committee level. It is visionary. He (Sharp) obviously cares about the Valley and the flagships and he is saying, these are medical students and they should be funded like other medical students in the state.”
State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., had nothing but praise for Sharp. He told the Rio Grande Guardian: “Chancellor Sharp is a winner. He always shows a winning spirit. Everything he touches turns to gold and he has certainly touched the lives of students in the Rio Grande Valley. I applaud him for working to ensure we receive equity in the funding formulas for our new medical school. He is my hero.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp and state Senators Juan Hinojosa and Eddie Lucio, Jr., at the launch of Texas A&M’s Healthy South Texas initiative. It took place on Sept. 30, 2015, at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service offices in Weslaco.