Advocate editorial board opinion: Chancellors' visit marks historical, critical moment

By the Advocate Editorial Board
April 29, 2011 at 7 p.m.
Updated April 29, 2011 at 11:30 p.m.

No one recalls two state university system chancellors ever meeting before in Victoria.

The meeting, arranged by a top state legislator, would be a remarkable moment for higher education in the Crossroads. This is particularly exciting for those who think the state has too long overlooked the needs for higher education in the region.

State Rep. Dan Branch, chairman of the Texas House Committee on Higher Education, called for the meeting in response to a bill filed by state Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria. The bill would transfer the University of Houston-Victoria to the Texas A&M System.

Branch initiated this meeting after hearing from many supporters of the change. They told him how UH didn't share the same vision for expanding the opportunities for higher education in the Crossroads.

Victoria is a perfect location for meeting the state's "Closing the Gaps" goal of providing a higher education to at least 500,000 more students. Already, it has been astonishing to see the success recruiters have had in the first year of UHV's status as a four-year university.

In particular, UHV has been appealing to students and parents in the Rio Grande Valley who see the campus as a good fit - not too far from home and not too large to be intimidating. With its small class size and excellent programs like Centro Victoria, the campus is proving it has the formula for serving first-generation students, those expressly targeted by the state initiative. With the right leadership, the Victoria campus can grow to become a first-class destination university.

Already, UHV has received 1,720 applications for 2011-12 freshmen, and the deadline has not yet passed. Of those, at least 400 are expected to enroll in the fall. That's an astonishing response for a university that started accepting underclassmen only this school year.

The catch? UH has offered no long-term plan or vision for sustaining this growth. The foundation for expansion was laid by the community and by the university president UH ousted shortly before this school year. UH fought against many of these steps, failing to see the potential for growth at a university outside Houston. That's why community leaders started to search for a system more suited to developing a university in a more rural setting.

Branch's meeting, scheduled for sometime in June, should help to clarify the vision UH and Texas A&M have for the Victoria campus. Those doubting the wisdom of switching systems have complained that A&M, restricted by law from lobbying legislators for a change, has not spelled out its plans for Victoria. They fear the unknown could be worse than the status quo.

This face-to-face discussion in Victoria should either compel UH to present an in-depth plan or A&M to reveal more about its intentions. Or, even better, both. If all goes well, Victoria will move forward as a key piece of the state's plans for higher education.

The legislative process tends to be maddeningly slow, but that can't stop the momentum that has been built. The stakes are high, and the community's commitment to this effort must remain strong. Two chancellors will be listening.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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