AUSTIN – The Board of Regents of The University of Texas System today (Aug. 25) approved a $30 million plan to expand educational programs, recruit faculty and bolster operations at UT institutions in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and South Texas.
“With over one-third of all UT System students attending institutions in South Texas, it is easy to see how important this region of the state is to higher education,” Regents’ Chairman Gene Powell  said. “Therefore, investments such as the one the Board is making in this region are vital not only to ensuring a more robust higher education experience for students, but for enhancing health care to a chronically underserved area of the state. It is through those efforts that the UT System can enrich lives and promote a more vibrant community for generations to come.”
“We believe this to be a transformational investment in the region’s institutions which will greatly enhance education and health care, giving the Lower Rio Grande Valley and South Texas a substantial boost in how it educates and trains future professionals in science, technology, engineering, math and medicine,” said UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D.  “What I love about this plan is it will have an impact on classrooms from K-12 all the way up to the doctorate level in higher education.”
The plan is part of a UT System initiative aimed at expanding programs and improving operations across its 15 institutions, and was presented to regents as part of Chancellor Cigarroa’s framework action plan for advancing excellence over the next several years. Funding for projects will be disbursed beginning in Fiscal Year 2012, which starts Sept. 1.
“This is a pivotal moment in history for the Rio Grande Valley — when a strategic and focused investment by the UT System can play a transformational role in helping shape its destiny,” said Juliet V. Garcia, president of UT Brownsville. “And that destiny is directly tied to that of the entire state of Texas. There can be no greater return on investment than one that targets the development of human capital.”
The long-term plan for the Lower Rio Grande Valley and South Texas includes:
- $4 million to establish UTeach programs in STEM education and engineering at UT Pan American and UT Brownsville;
- $9.5 million to establish a faculty recruitment program to attract exceptional STEM faculty and researchers to UT System institutions in the Rio Grande Valley;
- $10 million to establish a Simulated Teaching Hospital - a joint endeavor with UT Pan American, UT Brownsville and the Regional Academic Health Centers (RAHC), which is part of UT Health Science Center - San Antonio;
- $4 million to establish a Biomedical Research Program - a joint endeavor with UT Pan American, UT Brownsville, RAHC and the Laredo Regional campus, which is part of the UT Health Science Center - San Antonio, and the Regional School of Public Health in Brownsville, which is part of UT Health Science Center - Houston;
- $1.5 million to establish a stronger foundation for medical education by expanding the number of residency opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley for existing and future medical students; and,
- Up to $1 million to strengthen philanthropic efforts and UT Brownsville and UT Pan American through the Strength in Numbers program.
“The Lower Rio Grande Valley Initiative is a true game-changer for the Valley, and I do not use that term lightly,” said Robert S. Nelsen, president of UT Pan American in Edinburg. We at UT Pan American are extremely grateful to the Regents and the Chancellor for the investment that the UT System is making in our community. We look forward to working closely with UT Brownsville, South Texas College and others to fulfill the promise of this initiative and improve the quality of life for Valley residents."
Dr. Kenneth I. Shine, the UT System’s executive vice chancellor for health affairs, said the plan is expected to dramatically improve health care in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, which for decades has been chronically underserved.
“This plan will respond to unmet needs in health care as well as improve opportunities for economic development in the region by enhancing the education of the health care workforce, including physicians, and strengthening research in diabetes and obesity,” Shine said.
About The University of Texas System
The University of Texas System is one of the nation’s largest higher education systems, with nine academic campuses and six health institutions. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $12.8 billion (FY 2011) including $2.3 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. Preliminary student enrollment exceeded 211,000 in the 2010 academic year. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state's undergraduate degrees and educates nearly three-fourths of the state's health care professionals annually. With more than 68,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.