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MCALLEN, RGV – On Thursday, the Texas Higher Education Board approved the establishment of a new higher education center in McAllen. The groundbreaking is set for Dec. 15.

The new facility will be an extension of Texas A&M’s College Station campus and will allow students to enroll in courses at the McAllen campus and obtain their degrees from the flagship university. A news conference was held at McAllen Convention Center on Friday to publicize the project.

According to a news release from The Texas A&M University System, the University announced their intentions to enter in a collaboration with the City of McAllen back in September 2015. This will allow students to graduate from Texas A&M without leaving the Rio Grande Valley.

John Sharp, the Texas A&M University System Chancellor, said Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a senator representing the 20th district, came to him with the idea.

“There is a distinct culture in the Rio Grande Valley that sometimes makes it hard for young men and young women even to the highest caliber with grades and GPA to go across the state to a flagship university like College Station or Austin,” Sharp said. “So their idea was, if it’s difficult to take kids across the state to a flagship institution, why don’t we bring a flagship institution to the Rio Grande Valley?”

According to a Frequently Asked Questions handout from the University, the Capital Plan was amended to allow Texas A&M University to initiate conceptual design of a 60,000 square-foot multi-purpose academic building that will include classrooms, laboratories, and faculty and administrative support offices, as well as student services and gathering spaces back in February 2016 during a Board of Regents meeting.

“I’m very happy to see this day for the simple reason that for us education is very keen here in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas,” Hinojosa said. “We have so many positive events taking place here for us. The future is great and education is the key – the key to get out of poverty, the key to success and the key to grow our economy. For so many years, our students didn’t have a place to go to college. We had UTRGV, but many of them wanted to go to A&M, but they could not afford it.”

The University also partnered up with South Texas College (STC) to rent some class space to allow students to take courses starting Fall 2017. The first degree that will be offered at the center is a bachelor’s of science in interdisciplinary engineering.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said about two and a half years ago, the City of McAllen decided it needed to work at building a future for its kids.

“Everybody says your kids are the future and that’s kind of correct and of course they are,” Darling said. “But we want to make sure that we build a future for our kids so that they didn’t go, leave and not come back, so that was a two-pronged test. One was quality of life but the other one is education.”

Construction for the center will begin Dec. 15. Sharp said the University hopes to open up the center September 2018–located on a 100-acre site at 6200 Tres Lagos Boulevard. An IDEA school will also be found in the same area.

“This is going to be the only place in the nation where you can start kindergarten, go all the way through college, get a master’s degree perhaps and never leave the same subdivision,” Sharp said. “That doesn’t exist anywhere in the United States of America. It’s going to be a really great deal.”

In the news release, Sharp said elected officials from the region – including state legislators, the U.S. congressional delegation, city leaders and policy-makers from Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy and Starr counties – played vital roles throughout the process. This includes Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia.

“Our region is among the fastest growing in the nation, with economic, cultural and community vitality that will demand education as a key to our success,” Garcia said. “We are proud to be a partner in education with Texas A&M University for the future of our children.”

In a news release, state Rep. R.D. ‘Bobby’ Guerra of McAllen said, “As the Valley continues to grow, we must assure that our citizes always have the best opportunities for success. I am very proud and humbled that Texas A&M University has chosen our region to join the Aggie family.”