Valley gets new university, medical school
AUSTIN (AP) - Two University of Texas System campuses would be combined to form a single university with a new medical school in South Texas under a plan approved Thursday intended to help to serve one of the poorest and rapidly growing areas of the country.
The Board of Regents want to merge Texas-Pan American in Edinburg and Texas-Brownsville and spend $100 million to accelerate plans for a medical school. The plan, informally dubbed the University for the Americas in the Rio Grande Valley, requires approval from the Legislature, which convenes in January.
Supporters say the new university, and most notably the medical school, are critically needed to serve the education and health care needs in the region along the Texas-Mexico border.
"We will transform the valley," Robert Nelsen, president of Texas-Pan American told the regents before the unanimous vote.
The new university would have about 28,000 students and would be eligible to gain "emerging research university" status, which would allow it to compete for state money that is supposed to help schools attract research and private grants. System officials said it also would be allowed to receive money from the multibillion dollar Permanent University Fund.
Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, a surgeon from Laredo, said the university would be one of the largest Hispanic-serving institutions of higher education in the country.
"We'll forever change the economic and education landscape of Texas," with this project, Cigarroa said.
A key component is the medical school, he said.
Residents have lobbied for years to get a medical school in the region, and plans have already been in place to use UT System health facilities in Cameron and Hidalgo counties. University officials and local politician, who pushed the issue believe it will result in more doctors practicing on the border and have a positive impact on overall health in one of the most impoverished and medically underserved parts of the country.
More than 1.2 million people live in Cameron and Hidalgo counties, and about one in three live below the poverty line. It's a fast-growing young population, about one-third of which is below the age of 18.
In addition to allowing local students interested in medicine to study close to home, a medical school situated on the border could eventually draw students from Central and South America.
Regents officials cautioned that the 100 million commitment for the medical school would not be enough.
Sens. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, and Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said Thursday they would work to get more funding from lawmakers, starting with a potential 20 million boost in the next two-year state budget. But that request will also come when universities across the state are fighting to restore the nearly 1 billion state lawmakers cut from higher education in 2011.
"The easy part is the new university," Hinojosa said. "We still face our challenges with the medical school and the costs involved."