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MCALLEN, RGV – A mother attended her daughter’s graduation at Texas A&M College Station, but spent the last four years under the assumption her daughter was attending Texas A&M Kingsville.

This story convinced John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M University System, and others to bring A&M to the Rio Grande Valley.

John Sharp

The Texas A&M University System broke ground Dec. 15 for the 61,000-square-foot Texas A&M University Higher Education Center on the Tres Lagos development. The $40 million center will offer world-class education programs directly from Texas A&M University, classrooms, laboratories, an auditorium as well as student services and administrative support offices.

“Today’s groundbreaking demonstrates what can be accomplished when a community–really the whole region–works together to bring educational opportunity to the young people of the Rio Grande Valley,” Sharp said. “People’s lives will be changed by this beautiful faculty, and they, in turn, will change the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas.”

Through Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, Sharp met a family from the Rio Grande Valley during one of Texas A&M University’s graduation ceremonies. The graduate convinced her mother she attended Texas A&M Kingsville for the past four years and went as far as taking her mother to football games in Kingsville.

“Little did [the mother] know that for four years, [her daughter[ had been going on a full scholarship to Texas A&M College Station,” Sharp said. “Her mother would not have let her go [because it was too far]. She was just in awe. … It was such an amazing story and that’s what really convinced me and many of us if we can’t get all of the great students to [attend College Station] … then by God we’re going to bring the flagship to [them].”

According to a FAQ sheet from Texas A&M University on the center, the University is committed to supporting the educational needs of Texas with top-tier educational programs that will enhance the continued economic development of the region and help provide the necessary skilled workforce. There are more than 1,600 students from the Hidalgo, Cameron, Starr and Willacy Counties currently enrolled in Texas A&M as well as over 3,600 former students living in the area.

“Anybody that’s been in politics at all, statewide, knows that the Rio Grande Valley is different in very good ways for much than the rest of Texas,” Sharp said. “One of the things that you learn real fast is that there [are] cultural ties to families that is as strong as it can be anywhere in the world. And you also learn that it’s hard sometimes for kids to leave the Valley because maybe the family misses them, loves them [and] doesn’t want them to go all the way across the world to College Station … and there’s also economics.”

Carlos Margo

The Higher Education Center is set to open Fall 2018, but Texas A&M will open up applications to students Jan. 2017 on the University’s website to enroll for Fall 2017. Those applying are expected to satisfy the same admission requirements and pay the same rate of tuition as students from College Station.

Until then, Texas A&M students will utilize resources at South Texas College (STC). Carlos Margo, dean of Industry Training and Economic Development, said both A&M and STC worked out a partnership where the projected number of 100 students beginning Fall 2017 will use STC’s facilities for a year to help them transition to the Higher Education Center.

“[The partnership] opens the doors for further collaboration,” Margo said. “It’s great to have A&M on our campus. We can learn from them and they will allow us to benefit from having their students [and faculty] on campus. That itself is another opportunity for our faculty to collaborate for an in-person, face-to-face environment.”

Some degrees that will be offered at the center include programs in public health, nursing and soon-to-be-announced interdisciplinary engineering. Other degree programs that will be offered from Texas A&M University are still being discussed.