HARLINGEN, RGV – At a meeting in Austin this week, the UT System Board of Regents is slated to approve the purchase of an additional 53 acres of land in Edinburg for UT-Rio Grande Valley.

Dr. Guy Bailey, president of UTRGV, spoke about the land acquisition while signing a Memorandum of Understanding between his university and Texas State Technical College in Harlingen on Monday.

“It is to give us land for expansion. It is some land contiguous to the campus. If you think five, ten years down the road it is land for expansion. We are always looking for land, both in Edinburg and in Brownsville. You have to think, ten years, 15 years from now. We are looking to the future. It is not for anything immediate,” Bailey told the Rio Grande Guardian.

According to the UT System agenda packet, the land is on the southeast quadrant of North Sugar Road and West Chapin Street, in Edinburg. It is currently owned by Norquest Family Holdings, Ltd. Currently, the UTRGV campus in Edinburg sits on 318.1 acres.

The UT System Board of Regents is also slated to approve a seal for UTRGV and approve a $37.6 million Interdisciplinary Engineering and Academic Studies Building for UTRGV. According to a synopsis provided by the UT System, a 77,000 gross square feet building will be built on the Edinburg campus “for interdisciplinary space necessary to support enrollment growth in the rapidly growing region.” The facility will include a 250-seat lecture auditorium, a 150-seat lecture hall, 60-seat classrooms, and offices. “Although particular emphasis will be placed on preparation of engineering students, this facility will also address flexible space requirements for other disciplines as needed.” Additionally, the project will include an “outdoor pavilion to be used as a gathering area and study space to relieve pressure on more expensive indoor space and also to support academic events.” Design development plans and authorization of expenditure of funding will be presented to the Board of Regents for approval at a later date.

The new president of Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, Mark Iglesias, welcomed the latest planned advances at the Edinburg UTRGV campus. “During our joint workshop with the Edinburg City Council over this past weekend, we reviewed what the EEDC, the Mayor, and the City Council, along with our state lawmakers, have done over the years to help get us to this point, and how very important UTRGV and its School of Medicine are for the economic growth and quality-of-life for our city and region. We are dedicated to helping create one of the best public university systems in the nation.”

Edinburg Mayor Richard García agreed. “The UT System leadership recognizes that the future of Texas is right here in South Texas, which has one of the largest and youngest populations in the nation. Just as important, the expansion plans by the UT System for UT-RGV are further proof that we do, indeed, have the brainpower, willpower, and strength of character to overcome all challenges and succeed. This is the message being sent to the world.”

TSTC Harlingen President Stella Garcia spoke to the Rio Grande Guardian about her college’s MOU agreement with UTRGV.

“We have a lot of students that come to us not for technical programs but for academic programs. If they were at UT they would basically be freshmen and sophomores. This MOU gives them an opportunity to go from TSTC with an associate’s degree and get an advanced degree, a bachelor’s or master’s at UTRGV. So, for those of our students who are not going to go into the workforce, this is an opportunity to seamlessly transfer to UTRGV,” Garcia said.

“Our students will not have to take any additional courses. UTRGV will accept everything the students have taken with us, provided it meets the requirements of the academic core or one of the associate’s degrees. If students are interested in doing their basics with us in smaller courses, because we are a smaller college with more of an intimate setting, they can. They can get their foundational courses with us before they transfer on to UTRGV.”

TSTC Harlingen’s student enrollment is about 6,000. Of these, about 400 to 500 a year used to transfer to UT-Pan American or UT-Brownsville. These two universities are being wound down in a couple of weeks to make way for UTRGV.

Garcia said the MOU was a “great way” to showcase the partnership it is developing with UTRGV. “We have done a lot of work behind the scenes with UTRGV already. In our initial conversations with Dr. Bailey, he told us how much he wanted to do this. It is important for them also. This is a way to tell the public about it. We are fortunate we have a pretty good reputation already. We are told our students are very well prepared when they get to that level. UT can tell when a student comes from TSTC, so that is good.”

Bailey agreed with Garcia that the signing of the MOU signaled a smooth transition for TSTC Harlingen students transferring to UTRGV.

“What this MOU will do is speed up transfer into the university. With this memo, followed by articulation agreements, students can go from here to UTRGV without having to retake courses, without having some of the hurdles you sometimes have. It really is just to grease the skids for transfer,” Bailey said. He then gave an example of a student who went from TSTC Harlingen to UT-Brownsville and will now be doing a master’s in psychology at UTRGV. “It is a great example of how you can go through smoothly with the right articulation agreements,” Bailey said. “The community colleges are feeders for us. We need for them to be strong. We are going to work hand in glove on a smooth transition.”

Bailey told the Rio Grande Guardian that UTRGV will open its doors for the first time on August 31. Asked how things were going, Bailey said: “Things are going great. We will open our doors with 28,000 students. We are offering more than 5,000 classes. We are offering a lot more classes than the two legacy institutions did last year. I think there are five percent more classes in Brownsville for instance. We are very excited. I talked to 90 new faculty members about an hour and a half ago. I have never talked to that many new faculty members before.”

Havidan Rodriguez, provost at UTRGV, was at the MOU signing. The Rio Grande Guardian asked him if UTRGV would be expanding its presence at the University Center in Harlingen, which is on the TSTC campus. He replied: “We are going to expand our presence throughout the Rio Grande Valley, including in Harlingen. As you know, we have an important presence at the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen. We have a presence here. We will continue to expand our partnerships and collaborations. As you have seen with our Memorandum of Understanding with TSTC, this is about building partnerships and creating great connections between our institutions. We want to build on what has already been done, we want to examine the University Center here to see what programs and courses have been offered and see what additional things we can do. We are going to expand throughout the Rio Grande Valley.”

Editor’s Note: In the main image accompanying this story are UT-Rio Grande Valley President Guy Bailey and TSTC-Harlingen President Stella Garcia. On behalf of their two institutions, the two presidents signed a Memorandum of Understanding at TSTC on Monday, August 18, 2015.