Regional Academic Health Center

Senate committee approves consolidated UT System school, moves to full Senate

A bill to consolidate UT System institutions in the Rio Grande Valley will go before the Texas Senate after a committee unanimously approved it Wednesday.

The bill, authored by state Sens. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville; Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; and Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, would combine UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American and the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen into one institution.

"Today is an important first step in ensuring the Valley receives its first Tier One research university," Lucio said in a statement.

The bill would give the consolidated institution access to the Permanent University Fund, a $1.3 billion state endowment that allocates money to institutions in the UT and Texas A&M systems. The Regional Academic Health Center would become a medical school under the proposal.

Currently, UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American are the only UT System institutions that do not receive money from the fund.

The Legislature must approve the new university by a two-thirds vote in both houses for the institution to gain access to the fund.

The UT System is currently committing $100 million over 10 years for the prospective medical school and will seek $10 million in annual state funds for the consolidation.

Consolidating UT System institutions in the Rio Grande Valley would greatly benefit the economy of South Texas, UT System officials and Texas lawmakers said Wednesday.

The Texas Legislature is considering passing bills filed in both houses that would combine University of Texas at Brownsville, UT-Pan American in Edinburg and the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen into one institution and give that institution access to the Permanent University Fund. The fund, currently assessed at $1.3 billion for the 2014-15 biennium, allocates money to institutions in the UT and Texas A&M systems.

UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American are the only schools in the UT System that are not eligible for inclusion in the Permanent University Fund.

UT-Pan American President Robert Nelsen told the House Higher Education Committee that his institution does not have the space to accommodate students that other universities in the System have. Nelson said UT-Pan American has 129 gross square feet per student as opposed to 203 at UT-El Paso and 355 at UT-Austin.

“Why do we have so little? Because we’ve never had access to [the Permanent University Fund],” Nelsen said.

UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American are not included in the fund because they were not originally established under the UT System.

To be included in the fund, the Legislature must establish a new university within the UT or A&M systems by a two-thirds vote in both chambers.

The Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen is part of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, which means it is already eligible for money from the Permanent University Fund.

Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, filed the House version of the bill and said the consolidation of the universities will create 7,000 to 10,000 jobs with an average salary of $63,000.

“I can’t think of anything I’ve ever offered in my 29 years of the Legislature that will have as much impact as this,” Oliveira said.

Oliveira said he believes it would take 18 to 24 months to abolish the existing universities and create the new institution if the bill passes.

The UT System Board of Regents approved spending $100 million of its own funds over 10 years to transform the Regional Academic Health Center into the proposed South Texas School of Medicine, which will be part of the consolidated institution. The System will also seek $10 million per year in state funds to assist the consolidation. Those appropriations would be separate from the Permanent University Fund.

Oliveira said the Permanent University Fund is projected to grow over the course of the decade, which will provide more money to each university included in the fund and negate any impact the new institution would have on how much other universities receive.

“We’re not going to be crowding [other universities] out,” Oliveira said. “We’re going to be part of the family, which we should have been a long time ago.”

Printed on Thursday, February 21, 2013 as: Legislature considers Rio Grande Valley university consolidation bill 

A bill to consolidate three UT System institutions in the Rio Grande Valley into one university will be the first piece of legislation considered by the Texas House Higher Education Committee during this session. 

Bills filed in both houses of the Texas Legislature would combine University of Texas at Brownsville, UT-Pan American in Edinburg and the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen into one institution and give that institution access to the Permanent University Fund. The fund, currently assessed at $1.3 billion for the 2014-15 biennium, allocates money to institutions in the UT and Texas A&M systems.

State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas and committee chairman, said Wednesday that he promised members of the South Texas delegation to hear the bill at the committee’s meeting next week.

“It’s very, very exciting news,” Branch said.

The UT System Board of Regents approved spending $100 million of its own funds over 10 years to transform the Regional Academic Health Center into the proposed South Texas School of Medicine, which will be part of the consolidated university. The System will also seek $10 million per year in state funds to assist the consolidation.

UT spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said System officials will give testimony on the bill.

“We are very pleased that Chairman Branch has recognized the importance of this legislation to the UT System, the region and the entire state of Texas by agreeing to set it as the first bill to come become the House Higher Education Committee,” LaCoste-Caputo said.

House Higher Education considers bill to consolidate Valley schools first

A bill to consolidate three UT System institutions in the Rio Grande Valley into one university will be the first piece of legislation considered by the Texas House Higher Education Committee during this session.

Bills filed in both houses of the Texas Legislature would combine UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American in Edinburg and the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen into one institution and give that institution access to the Permanent University Fund. The fund, currently assessed at $1.3 billion for the 2014-15 biennium, allocates money to institutions in the UT and Texas A&M systems.

State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas and committee chairman, said Wednesday that he promised members of the South Texas delegation to hear the bill at the committee’s meeting next week.

“It’s very, very exciting news,” Branch said.

The UT System Board of Regents approved spending $100 million of its own funds over 10 years to transform the Regional Academic Health Center into the proposed South Texas School of Medicine, which will be part of the consolidated university. The System will also seek $10 million per year in state funds to assist the consolidation.

UT spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said System officials will give testimony on the bill.

“We are very pleased that Chairman Branch has recognized the importance of this legislation to the UT System, the region and the entire state of Texas by agreeing to set it as the first bill to come become the House Higher Education Committee,” LaCoste-Caputo said.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Texas lawmakers heard testimony Thursday about the impact of a proposed consolidated UT System school in the Rio Grande Valley on a state fund intended for institutions in the UT and Texas A&M systems.

Bills filed in both houses of the Texas Legislature would bring UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American in Edinburg and the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen under the administration of one institution and give that institution access to the Permanent University Fund. The fund, established by the Texas Constitution, allocates money to institutions in the UT and Texas A&M systems.

Sarah Keyton, higher education team manager for the Legislative Budget Board, told the House Appropriations Committee the fund will have $1.3 billion during the 2014-15 biennium.

Kris Kavanaugh, higher education team member at the Legislative Budget Board, said there would be fewer funds for other UT System institutions if the Legislature approved the consolidation. He said the Legislature would not approve how much the consolidated school would receive from the fund.

“That would be a Board of Regents decision,” Kavanaugh said. 

Two-thirds of the Permanent University Fund is allocated to UT System institutions. The remaining amount goes toward the A&M system. 

Kavanaugh said the fraction of the fund allocated to the UT System would not change if UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American gain access to the fund.

The UT System Board of Regents approved spending $100 million of its own funds over 10 years to help transform the Regional Academic Health Center into the proposed South Texas School of Medicine, which will be part of the consolidated university. The System will also seek $10 million per year in state general revenue funds to assist the consolidation. Those appropriations would be separate from the Permanent University Fund.

UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American are the only schools in the UT System that are not eligible for inclusion in the Permanent University Fund.

UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said the institutions were not previously included because they were not originally established under the UT System.

“The only way the Texas Legislature can allow UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American to be PUF eligible is to create a brand new university,” LaCoste-Caputo said.

LaCoste-Caputo said the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen is part of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, which means it is already eligible for money from the Permanent University Fund.

“Making the new medical school in South Texas part of the new university opens up many opportunities for synergies and partnerships with other academic departments and programs, much like we anticipate at UT-Austin with its new medical school,” LaCoste-Caputo said.

Published on February 8, 2013 as "State may open fund to proposed university". 

Bills filed in both houses of the Texas Legislature on Monday would lead the UT System to consolidate its institutions in the Rio Grande Valley into one entity.

The bills would bring UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American and the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen under the administration of one institution and give that institution access to the Permanent University Fund. The fund, established by the Texas Constitution, allocates money to the UT and Texas A&M systems.

It is unclear how much the initiative will cost, but the regents approved spending $100 million over 10 years to help transform the Regional Academic Health Center into the proposed South Texas School of Medicine, which will be part of the consolidated university.
The bills would direct the UT System Board of Regents to establish a temporary advisory group that would design, develop and choose a location for the proposed medical school.
“We believe the students of South Texas deserve access to a first-class education and that this new, PUF-eligible university will have a magnificent impact on the educational and economic opportunities in the region,” Board Chairman Gene Powell said in a statement released Monday.

In January, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa told the Senate Finance
Committee that the System will seek $10 million per year in state general revenue funds to assist the consolidation and the establishment of the medical school. 

The UT System is not currently seeking state funds to pay for the UT-Austin
medical school, which will use revenue from the regents, the regional Seton Family of Hospitals and property tax revenue collected by Central Health, Travis County’s hospital district. At the Senate Finance Committee meeting, Cigarroa said the Rio Grande Valley does not have the tax base necessary to support such an arrangement.

Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, who filed the bill, said the city may have to create a special taxing district that would help fund the medical school but that the school would have to seek revenue from additional sources such as philanthropic funds.

“We cannot raise the kind of money you could raise in Austin or El Paso or Houston or Dallas, so we are going to have to be creative about other kinds of funding packages,” Oliveira said.

Oliveira said the bill filed by Rep. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, to establish a UT System law school in the Rio Grande Valley is not related to the consolidation bill but said the proposed law school could be part of the consolidation.

According to each bill, students already enrolled at UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville before the bill takes effect would be allowed to enroll at the new university. The bills state that the new university will hire as many faculty and staff as possible from the abolished universities.

UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said it is too soon to tell how the proposed school’s administration would include administrators at UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American and the Regional Academic Health Center.

“There will be some consolidation but it is premature to discuss details, as a bill to create the university still has to be passed by a two-thirds vote of both chambers in the Legislature,” LaCoste-Caputo said.

The House bill is authored by nine representatives including Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who chairs the House Higher Education Committee. 

The Senate bill is authored by four senators: Sens. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville; Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; and Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee.

The initiative has support from outside of the legislative branch and the UT System. 

During his State of the State address last week, Gov. Rick Perry said he supported allowing the schools to have access to the Permanent University Fund.

“This area of the state is critical to our state’s future,” Perry said, “and our investment in the children of South Texas will be returned a thousand-fold.”

Printed on Tuesday, February 5, 2013 as: Bill proposes merging Valley schools

UT System Board of Regents allocated a part of a $30 million fund last week to build a medical school in the Lower Rio Grande Valley area to provide education and training for medical students.

The process will enhance the medical education capabilities of the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen, a city in the valley. The center is associated with the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, but does not have the resources to educate medical students all four years. Francisco González-Scarano, dean of the School of Medicine at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, said the students currently studying at the RAHC volunteer to study in that area.

“They want to be taking care of the people in the valley,” González-Scarano said.

The Lower Rio Grande Valley residents don’t have adequate medical services available in the area, and the addition of a medical school would bring more medical professionals and attention to the needs of the people, said González-Scarano.

There are currently about 40 students studying at the RAHC, he said, and with the development of the medical school, 220 students will be able to rotate per year. As plans for the medical school are underway, the RAHC will establish partnerships with local hospitals to retain graduates and help improve medical attention for residents of the area.

“We need to ensure that there are enough post-medical school spots,” he said.

UT-Brownsville President Juliet García said part of the $30 million fund will also go toward moving the institution to a four-year college from a community college. The fund will allow UT-Brownsville to make improvements to the School of Public Health — furthering the efforts to provide adequate medical services to the people in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

“You know when you’re sitting in a classroom, and you have the right answer and you’re waving your hand?” García said. “It’s like we can do this. We just need the resources and we finally got picked.”

García said compared to Austin, Brownsville has half as many nurses and doctors per people.

“Anytime you improve higher education opportunities, you impact in a significant way the quality of life in a community,” García said.

UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American and the medical school will work together in joint endeavors to provide people with medical services in the valley. García said these plans are in line with Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s framework to increase financial and educational productivity at UT System institutions.

“He wants to be able to leverage all three institutions toward one goal,” García said.

Cigarroa’s framework left open future possibility of a UT medical school in Austin and in general called for a focus on the health of Texans. Senator Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said in a press release that he will come up with a plan within the next month to further medical education, health care and bioscience for UT.

“An advanced medical education and research initiative, growing alongside and in partnership with University of Texas System institutions, represents almost limitless opportunity for Central Texans’ economy, health and quality of life,” Watson wrote.

UT-Austin President William Powers Jr. said in a statement the University has been working to increase medical education in Austin for more than five years. This includes the creation of the Dell Pediatric Research Institute, a new department in Biomedical Engineering and increased residencies through Seton Hospitals.

“We need to be careful about getting solid funding in place to continue these steps, but they are the necessary ones to establish a medical school here,” Powers said.

Printed on Wednesday, August 31, 2011 as: Board of Regents appropriates money to build medical school.