SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas – Texas A&M University is going to offer seven more degree programs at the McAllen Higher Education Center – subject to approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp made the announcement at a luncheon hosted by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership on Tuesday. The event was held at the Cameron County Events Center at Isla Blanca on South Padre Island.

“We have applied to the coordinating board. We want to offer seven more degrees at the McAllen campus,” Sharp said, to loud applause.

Sharp said the new programs will be:

  • Bachelor of Science in Agriculture Economics;
  • Bachelor of Science in University Studies in Arts and Sciences, which will be a feeder program to A&M’s law school in Fort Worth;
  • Bachelor of Arts in International Studies;
  • Bachelor of Science in Human Resource Development;
  • Bachelor of Science in STEM Education;
  • Bachelor of Science in Maritime Business Administration;
  • Bachelor of Science in Construction Science.

Sharp said the construction science degree program at College Station has a 100 percent hire rate. “There is never a child that walks across the stage that does not have a job, and a very good job,” Sharp said. “It is the best construction science program in the country.”

Texas &AM University System Chancellor John Sharp spoke at the Cameron County Events Center at Isla Blanca on South Padre Island on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. He is pictured with Texas A&M University System Vice President Chad Wootton, and Texas A&M University System Regent Mike Hernandez.

The McAllen Higher Education Center is part of Texas A&M University at College Station. It opened in the fall of 2018.

The new campus extends existing Texas A&M University degrees in biomedical science, interdisciplinary engineering, multidisciplinary engineering technology, public health, and agricultural systems to the people of the Rio Grande Valley.

Texas A&M leaders say the McAllen center supports the educational needs of Texas through top tier educational programs that fulfill individual student career goals, enhance continued economic development in the region, and help provide the necessary skilled workforce.

The McAllen center has a three-story structure covering 65,000 square feet. It boasts a 140-seat auditorium, mid-size and small general classrooms, lab spaces for engineering and technology, and multi-use spaces.

In his remarks, Chancellor Sharp said that when A&M researched it, they found there were “a heck of a lot kids” in the Valley whose parents did not feel comfortable sending their students to College Station.

“It was like going to China, it was the other end of the world. They (the parents) were not happy with that. They were not comfortable with sending their sons and daughters,” Sharp said.

As he has done before, Sharp told the story of a South Texas student who led her mother to believe she was studying at Texas A&M-Kingsville when in fact she was studying at A&M in College Station.

“She would not give me permission to go to College Station,” the student told Sharp, speaking of her mother.

“This girl would take her mother to homecoming at Kingsville and she would not know a damn person there,” Sharp said, to chuckles from the audience.

“Her mother for four years thought that was where she was in school. She graduated in bio-medical engineering and in two years will be a doctor.”

Sharp said the mother cried tears of joy when she learned her daughter had graduated from College Station.

“We saw a lot of that in the Rio Grande Valley. Part of it is the culture and the strong family ties. We said, we have to have these kids that make great SAT scores, great ACT scores. They ought to be at Texas A&M or the University of Texas. If they cannot go to us, we are coming to them and that is the McAllen Center.”

Sharp pointed out that in 2019, Texas A&M in College Station had 754 students from Cameron County, 1,255 from Hidalgo County, 75 from Starr and 25 from Willacy. “That is a small number compared to what it needs to be,” Sharp said.

Sharp joked that Valley leaders should have a word with coordinating board chairman Fred Farias, III, to ensure Texas A&M gets approval for the seven new degree programs. Farias is from the Valley.

Interviewed after the luncheon, Chad Wootton said the Texas A&M System was “working our way through the process with the coordinating board and our higher education partners” to ensure the new degree programs are offered. Wootton is associate vice president for external affairs at the Texas A&M System.

Brownsville businessman Mike Hernandez was appointed a Texas A&M regent by Gov. Greg Abbott. Hernandez spoke at the luncheon.

“We are very excited about the expanded course offerings, especially with construction science,” Hernandez later told the Rio Grande Guardian. “That is a badly needed course of study down here. There is a lot of agriculture down here, so agriculture economics was added. We are also going to be offering some pre-law stuff for our law school in Fort Worth. We are very excited about it.”

Editor’s Note: The above story is the first in a two-part series on Chancellor Sharp’s visit to South Padre Island. Part Two will be posted in our next edition.