Board of Regents approve transformational plan to create a new university in South Texas

The new emerging research university would ultimately be home to a school of medicine

AUSTIN – The University of Texas System Board of Regents today unanimously approved an initiative to authorize Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa to work with the Texas Legislature to establish a new university that includes the University of Texas at Brownsville, the University of Texas-Pan American and the future South Texas School of Medicine.

The plan would result in a single institution that spans the entire Rio Grande Valley, with a presence in each of the major metropolitan areas of Brownsville, Edinburg, Harlingen and McAllen.

The Board also approved the allocation of $100 million over the next 10 years to accelerate the pace of transitioning the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen to a school of medicine.

“This is a bold plan that, if accomplished, will put our Rio Grande Valley campuses on equal footing with other UT institutions,” said Regents Chairman Gene Powell. “This is an opportunity to create a new emerging research university that has the potential to become a Tier One university in the next decade. It creates incredible opportunities to capitalize on the bicultural heritage of the Rio Grande Valley and build a university for the Americas.”

UT Brownsville and UT Pan American are not eligible for revenue from the Permanent University Fund, a public endowment created by the Texas Constitution. A new university would be eligible for PUF funding – a major catalyst for building a world-class research university, complete with a school of medicine. As an emerging research university, the new institution would also be eligible for more funding sources such as the National Research University Fund, the Texas Research Incentive Plan and matching UT System money.

UT Pan American President Robert Nelsen said the new university is for a generation of Valley children who will transform the region if they are given the opportunity and the education to do so.

“If we don’t get this right in the Valley, we won’t get it right anywhere,” Nelsen said, alluding to the nation’s changing demographics which are beginning to mirror those of South Texas. “This is literally about saving lives. This is literally about the future of America. I’m honored to be here at this historic moment.”

The new university’s overall size and portfolio would be similar to other existing UT emerging research universities with a student population of 28,000, research expenditures of $11 million, an endowment of $70.5 million and a total operating budget of $419 million.

Jon Hockenyos, founder and president of the economic analysis and public policy consulting firm TXP, estimated that the new university and school of medicine would likely account for 7,000 new jobs in the Rio Grande Valley – 10,000 if economic development impact of the new university is factored in.

“The ability to access and manage knowledge is really the key to success for the modern economy,” Hockenyos said. “I think this could very well be, if not the largest, one of the largest economic development opportunities for the Rio Grande Valley.”

The new university would also be one of the two largest Hispanic-serving institutions in the nation, both for total Hispanics enrolled and number of bachelor’s degrees awarded.  

Cigarroa, who gave a presentation to the board outlining the request to move forward, said there are challenges and opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley and taking advantage of UT campuses with a bi-national presence on the border of Mexico in one of the fastest-growing regions in Texas has been part of his vision since becoming chancellor in 2009.

“We have to think globally, not regionally,” Cigarroa said. “We have an opportunity to make the Rio Grande Valley a center for bicultural programs in economics, business, medicine, biomedical sciences, energy, environmental studies, Latin American studies and a host of other areas.

“If we focus our attention on this crucial region of Texas, we can create new jobs, attract new federal and private funding, launch new facilities construction and, most importantly, provide higher education and training – and a stronger future – for this generation and generations to come.”

UT Brownsville President Juliet Garcia said the new university will be strategically positioned to become the epicenter of and the gateway to the Americas.

“While we did not invent the global economy, we need to take advantage of it,” Garcia said. “Once in a great while, we have the profound opportunity to make a difference in the world. Your action today is one of those opportunities.”

About The University of Texas System

Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking research and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States, with nine academic universities and six health science centers. Preliminary student enrollment exceeded 216,000 in the 2012 academic year. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees and educates nearly three-fourths of the state’s health care professionals annually. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $13.1 billion (FY 2012) including $2.3 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. With roughly 87,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.

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