AUSTIN - Recognized around the country for its premier engineering programs, Texas A&M University announced Tuesday it plans to open a teaching center and eventually a satellite campus in heavily-Hispanic South Texas in one of the nation's fastest-growing metropolitan areas.
University and local officials announced the agreement in the city of McAllen, near the Texas-Mexico border. Texas A&M said it plans to first open the teaching facility there in 2017 with 100 students, but expand to 750 students over five years.
"We hope to establish first a teaching center and ultimately a branch campus that will provide students an outstanding option for higher education" in the South Texas region, Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp said in a statement.
Local officials said the proposed teaching center and campus could be transformative, providing more opportunities for residents of what is known in Texas as the Rio Grande Valley, a heavily Hispanic, bicultural and bilingual region experiencing population and economic growth but with limited higher education options and considerable poverty.
The 2010 Census put the McAllen metro area population at 774,769, a 67 percent increase over 2001, according to the McAllen Chamber of Commerce. Hispanics make up 90 percent of the McAllen population, and people under 35 comprise nearly 60 percent.
"We need to keep expanding education to keep up with our growing populations that are demanding new facilities and opportunities for educational success," Texas Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa of McAllen said in a statement.
Under the agreement signed Tuesday, Texas A&M will seek approval to offer academic programs such as engineering, engineering technology, biomedical sciences and agriculture and life sciences. Courses will be taught by Texas A&M faculty, and students will receive a diploma from A&M.
In an interview with The (McAllen) Monitor, Sharp said only two other facilities of this kind exist anywhere, both linked to the university -- Texas A&M at Qatar, an engineering school in the Middle East, and the maritime academy in Galveston, Texas.
Current and former South Texas residents quickly hailed the announcement on social media. And Garcia, the Hidalgo County judge, said the agreement is a game changer.
"I could not be happier to further our support for the advancement of higher education for the citizens of Hidalgo County and South Texas. With the addition of a Texas A&M campus, our region will have two flagship institutions with access to Permanent University Funds," Garcia said.
Tuesday's announcement comes on the heels of the inauguration of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, which dissolved University of Texas-Pan American and University of Texas-Brownsville in order to also tap into state Permanent University Funds.
Sharp told The Monitor that A&M's new South Texas campus will not compete with UTRGV and that no programs will be duplicated.
Tuesday's letter of intent notes that any final agreement must be approved by the governing bodies of each party, including the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents.