The Middle Rio Grande Higher Education summit, originally scheduled for Sept. 27, was cancelled by Sul Ross State University and Southwest Texas Junior College officials.
The purpose of the summit was for college and university leaders, city, county and school officials, as well as chambers of commerce, and the Mexican consulates in Del Rio and Eagle Pass to discuss the need of a four-year college in this area.
Students who reside in the Middle Rio Grande area seeking to obtain a four-year degree in a physical classroom can attend Sul Ross State University Rio Grande College, or otherwise transfer to a university of their choice. The Middle Rio Grande area is an 11-county region in South Texas that includes Val Verde County.
Sul Ross State University Rio Grande College has satellite campuses in Del Rio, Eagle Pass and Uvalde, but the campuses do not offer student amenities such as a student center, library, computer labs, weekend hours and support staff.
Rio Grande College offers bachelor’s degrees in 13 programs, compared to 25 programs offered at Alpine. Students seeking a master’s degree can choose from five programs at Rio Grande College, compared to 20 programs offered at Alpine.
The lack of bilingual courses and difficulty to access technology are a few of the concerns that do not allow local students and faculty to obtain the same educational access compared to the Alpine campus.
Bilingual courses are considered a necessity in cities such as Eagle Pass and Del Rio. Many jobs in border town areas require students to have a bilingual education background, according to Rio Grande College Professor of Education Dr. Miriam Muniz Quiz.
The Rio Grande College-Uvalde campus saw an increase in student population from 1996 to 2002 whereas Alpine saw a decrease of 22 percent in that same time frame, according to Michael Ortiz, professor of mathematics at Sul Ross State University Rio Grande College-Uvalde.
During that time the Alpine campus underwent construction and expansion projects.
Rio Grande College Professor of Biology Dr. Dan Foley and Professor of Business Administration Dr. Edison P. Moura said the lack of innovation to the buildings and consideration of the Middle Rio Grande populations, disrespects the communities and discourages students from enrolling in a local campus.
Southwest Texas Junior College President Hector Gonzales said they met in recent weeks with elected officials from Uvalde, Eagle Pass and Del Rio and listened to the needs of the region.
City of Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano said he understands the creation of a four-year institution will benefit the communities and the mayors of Uvalde and Eagle Pass were in agreement.
“Never before has the Middle Rio Grande region been more united to support higher education to be fortified in our underserved region of Texas,” Lozano said.
Lozano said he personally feels higher education is important and working alongside mayors and judges from the region, as a unified voice, to establish a campus in this region is crucial to the communities’ economic viability.
“We (Sul Ross State University) are still working in conjunction with Southwest Texas Junior College for a higher education plan,” Sul Ross State University President Bill Kibler said.
Strategies necessary to assure that 60 percent of the citizens in the region attain some level of higher education by 2030, current and projected population trends across the region and current and projected workforce characteristics and growth trends across the region were considered for discussion at the summit.
According to Kibler and Gonzales, the summit was cancelled after it was determined there is much diversity in the communities being served, and they weren’t ready to present a plan to the state legislature without more data.
“Southwest Texas Junior College is committed to providing high quality-education at an affordable price for the entire 11-county region that we serve. Over the last two years, we have hosted higher education summits, specifically for all area superintendents to collaborate on the educational needs of the region,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales said the overarching goal of the higher education master plan is to present a regionally supported plan that will anchor additional funding requests from the state and federal government.
Foley, Moura and Muniz said faculty involved in the effort are still committed to hold the summit if there is interest from the invitees. They agreed the needs of the population must be heard and addressed at a local level.
“I look forward to continuing having a vision and plan of action that can be discussed at the upcoming forum being held in Eagle Pass, Texas,” Lozano said.
Kibler said neither Sul Ross State University nor Southwest Texas Junior College will be present at the substitute summit taking place on Sept. 27. He understands people are upset about the cancellation, but in the meantime both campuses are gathering data and are fully committed to higher education in the Middle Rio Grande area.
Gonzales said in short term, Southwest Texas Junior College is actively working with Sul Ross to assist the transfer of students between institutions by strengthening transfer agreements, availability of academic advisors and expanded recruitment efforts.