State Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) discussed higher education issues facing the upcoming Texas Legislature and the growing prominence of The University of Texas-Pan American during a July 26 visit to the University.
Cuellar addressed higher education funding, the Texas Grant Scholarship Program and other items at a morning news conference. He expanded on them before a capacity crowd at a luncheon in the University Ballroom.
According to Cuellar, three factors are influencing the growth of South Texas and the entire state: demographics, technology and diversification. The Hispanic population continues to grow,
To handle this transition, Cuellar said universities like UT Pan American must partner with local school districts to give children every opportunity to learn and be productive.
"We've got to make sure institutions of higher learning work along with our public schools to meet the demands we have," he said. "The legislature is making sure we all have a seamless education process that covers pre-K to 16 and beyond instead of just pre-K to 12."
Meanwhile, a goal of both Cuellar and UTPA is the University's development into a Tier II doctoral/research institution within The University of Texas System. Using a modified version of the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, these schools provide a full range of baccalaureate programs and 10 or more doctorates annually in at least three disciplines or 20 or more doctorates annually overall.
"I've not had a lot of opportunities to visit many universities across Texas, but when you look at the committed individuals here and the vision they have, I think this goal is very achievable," Cuellar said. "It's going to take a lot of work, money and time, but every long journey starts with a first step, and the step has been taken here by President Dr. Miguel Nevarez and the University."
In addition, Cuellar announced UT Pan American will review all 250 agencies listed in the state budget for available grants and condense the data into a book for statewide distribution to nonprofit organizations and other agencies. The goal is to have the publication released by January, as the current state appropriations measure expires Aug. 31, 2001.
Finally, Cuellar highlighted UTPA's success in the Toward EXcellence, Access and Success (TEXAS) Grant program. The University leads the state in funds received, with nearly $1.2 million given to 888 entering freshmen last year.
This year, the same amount will be provided to these students, and another $1.044 million will go to approximately 803 incoming freshmen. That means 1,691 UTPA students will be TEXAS Grant recipients.
The TEXAS Grant program enables well-prepared qualified students to attend public and private nonprofit institutions of higher education in Texas. Among the requirements, a student must be a state resident and have completed the recommended or advanced high school curriculum.
"Studies show that if you take the rigorous college preparatory courses in high school, then the success rate will be higher when you get into college," Cuellar said. "Of all the universities giving out the dollars, UT Pan Am is the best and serves as a model for other universities."
Earlier in the morning, Cuellar met with Nevarez and members of the President's Executive Council regarding needed University projects and funding. He also toured the International Trade and Technology, Education and Engineering buildings.
"His support is very crucial to our requests because of his seniority on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education," Nevarez said. "We know we're not going to get everything we're asking for, but he knows there's a need and is committed to helping us. Even though he's not in our district, Henry has always supported us."
A member of the Texas House Appropriations Committee, Cuellar is chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. He also chairs the House Research Organization Steering Committee, is vice chair of the House Higher Education Committee and serves on the House Calendars Committee.