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Edinburg, Hidalgo County land major components of UT medical school “on monumental day” with blockbuster legislation merging UT-Pan American with UT-Brownsville

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Legislativemedia@aol.com 

The Texas House of Representatives on Friday, May 17, gave preliminary approval to blockbuster legislation, authorized the previous day by the Senate, to merge The University of Texas-Pan American with the University of  Texas-Brownsville – and bring major components of a UT medical school to Edinburg and Hidalgo County. 

The landmark measure, Senate Bill 24 by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, would have immediate, long-range, and unprecedented positive impacts on the economy, health care, and higher education in deep South Texas, said Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. 

“On this monumental day, the Rio GrandeValley has forever changed the way people will look at us. Some people believe that a ‘Friday Night Football Mentality’ rivalry dooms our South Texas communities. This is slander,” Canales reflected. “When the stakes are highest, as it is with this incredibly important issue, we always remain united.” 

Final approval of Senate Bill 24 is scheduled for Monday, May 20. The legislation would then go to Gov. Rick Perry for his approval. 

“Senate Bill 24 has been our priority all session long and even though there were contentious issues to work out, I commend the Rio Grande Valley Delegation for working through these difficult challenges,” said Hinojosa. “In the end, we have come together to pass this legislation that will greatly benefit and transform the entire South Texas region through education, healthcare and economically for years to come.” 

Hinojosa added that the planned UT medical school will result in “the expansion of educational opportunities that will create greater access to health care. The related health care businesses that the medical school will attract will be a great boost to our quality of life in the Valley.” 

Hinojosa thanked “my colleague, Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) for working together on the Senate side, the leadership of Rep. René Oliveira, and Rep. Eddie Lucio, III (D-San Benito), and our Hidalgo County Delegation, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, Rep. Terry Canales, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, Rep. (R.D.) “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, and Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr. (D-La Joya) for their hard work, perseverance and leadership. “ 

• Access to Permanent University Fund is vital 

The benefits for UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville also are considerable, Canales emphasized. 

“This legislation is huge for UT-Pan American and the UT medical school because it will allow, for the first time, access to money from the Permanent University Fund to help pay for major construction projects at UTPA, UT-Brownsville, and the planned UT medical school, which will have campuses in Hidalgo, Cameron and Starr counties,” Canales said. “Plus, the prestige of a UT medical school coming to Edinburg, Hidalgo County, and the Valley is invaluable.” 

By making the new university and medical school eligible for support from the Permanent University Fund (PUF), there would be less dependence on state general revenue. The PUF is an endowment fund that supports certain universities in the University of  Texas and Texas A&M University systems through investments made with state oil and gas royalties. 

Moving support for the university to the PUF from the general revenue-funded Higher Education Fund (HEF) would free tens of millions dollars for other HEF-supported institutions. 

On December 31, 2012 the market value and book value of the PUF was $13.9 billion and $11.9 billion, respectively, exclusive of land acreage. Today the PUF contains 2.1 million acres located in 24 counties primarily in West Texas. 

The new university’s increased size and budget would bring it closer to emerging research university status, eventually allowing it to compete for additional UT system and state matching funds. The university initially would have about 28,000 students, research expenditures of more than $11 million, and an endowment of $70.5 million. 

• United Hidalgo County leaders guaranteed success 

Ensuring that HidalgoCounty has major components of the four-year medical school was driven by a coalition made up of Hidalgo County, the City of Edinburg, the City of McAllen, and the City of Pharr, Canales noted. 

On May 7, a consortium of local and city governments, led by Hidalgo County, the City of Edinburg, the City of McAllen, and the City of Pharr, announced it would help provide crucial resources to ensure the medical school succeed and be located in Hidalgo County. 

The consortium pledged to secure 93 acres of land valued at $13 million to be used for medical and research programs that can complement proposed facilities in the master development plan of The University of Texas-Pan American. 

“That united support from Hidalgo County leaders was a crucial factor in the House on Friday, May 17, approving a major provision that directs the UT System to have a major presence in Hidalgo County,” Canales explained. “SB 24 now requires the planned UT medical school to provide educational programs and utilize facilities in Hidalgo County, including at UT-Pan American and at the adjoining UT Regional Academic Health Center Medical Research Division, which are in my House District 40.” 

The third and fourth years of the medical school education will primarily take place in Harlingen, where a UT Regional Academic Health Center is located. 

The promise of local support was part of the successful move to greatly expedite the proposed UT medical school, which includes a commitment by Hidalgo County and the cities of Edinburg, McAllen, and Pharr, joined by Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg, to match the University of Texas System’s $100 million investment over the next 10 years for the development of the UT medical school. 

Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, which operates a 506-bed acute care facility that provides a full range of medical services with over 50 specialties and sub specialties, will provide $60 million in matching funds over 10 years to support the development of residency programs across four specialties. These funds will allow medical school graduates to receive hands-on training in a patient setting to gain the experience needed to become a practicing physician. 

This historic pledge is the largest amount of money yet committed by local stakeholders, she noted. 

• UT System leaders endorse updated legislation 

The South Texas legislators’ assessments of SB 24 were shared by Francisco Cigarroa, M.D., Chancellor of the UT System, and William Eugene “Gene” Powell, Chairman of the UT System Board of Regents. 

Cigarroa is a South Texas native from Laredo, and Powell was raised in Weslaco. 

Both UT System leaders issued the following joint statement: 

“One of Texas’ most important regions will soon have a new university of the 21st century with a global mission serving 30,000 students, as well as a medical school with associated residency programs. This new university will be the second-largest Hispanic-serving institution in America in terms of enrollment. It will also be eligible for Permanent University Funds previously unavailable to UT Brownsville or UT Pan American.” 

“The University of Texas System is fully committed to bringing this new university to fruition, which will include a school of medicine, and we are profoundly grateful to Governor Perry, the Texas Legislature, the UT Board of Regents and the entire Rio GrandeValley community for their support and for entrusting the UT System with this special responsibility and privilege. This new university will transform the Rio GrandeValley, create jobs, enhance the economic vibrancy of South Texas and improve the health of Texans.” 

• New university, medical school to help drive Valley economy 

According to a bill analysis of Senate Bill 24: 

The new university would be an economic engine in its own right and, by training students, would lay the groundwork for other businesses and industries to flourish. It would give South Texans needed educational opportunities to fill and create the high-paying jobs of tomorrow. 

The medical school attached to the new university would not disrupt the medical education system in Texas. The medical school is already authorized by statute and would be developed even without SB 24. The Higher Education Coordinating Board already has accounted for it and incorporated it into its plans for higher education in Texas. Sufficient residency slots would be available for graduates of the medical school. At least 150 new residency slots are expected to be created in the Rio GrandeValley region as a result of local efforts and existing demand. 

The legislation will authorize the UT System Board of Regents to create a new university from the merger of UTPA and UT-B, and bring the planned UT medical school under the control of the new university. 

The name and other major administrative details of the new university and medical school will be decided at a later date by the regents. 

SB 24 would consolidate UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American, and the RegionalAcademicHealthCenter into a single institution, make the institution eligible for a superior method of funding, and attach a new medical school. This reorganization would create efficiencies and bring educational and economic opportunities to the Rio GrandeValley that do not now exist there. A new comprehensive research university is necessary to address the needs of the rapidly growing Valley population, which is already educationally and medically underserved. 

The medical school would attract additional health care providers to a medically underserved region. 

Universities already supported by the PUF have not objected to the new university being added, as the value of the PUF has grown dramatically because of record income from its oil and gas holdings. Although the percentage share of the pie would be reduced, the value of each slice has grown so significantly that already-participating universities still would see increases in the value of their shares. The university’s PUF share would come from the UT system’s share, leaving the Texas A&M system’s share unaffected. 

SB 24 would lead to savings on overhead and administration that could be spent on expansion, research, or new programs. Initial studies predict that consolidating the existing universities could save $6 million in administrative costs. According to the Legislative Budget Board, SB 24 would not have a significant fiscal impact on the state budget.  

While Texas Southmost College District currently has a partnership agreement with UT-Brownsville to transition students to the university, SB 24 should not stipulate a relationship between the new university and the district beyond current agreements. This would allow the relationship between the new university and the college district to develop as the not-yet-appointed leaders of the university see fit. 

SB 24 would give the new university statutory authority to administer the existing Center for Border Economic and Enterprise Development and the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science so they could be continued at the new university.

 

 

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