On Monday in Austin, Texas Senator, Dist. 19, Roland Gutierrez filed Senate Bill 522 in the 87th Legislature to officially move Sul Ross State University and its associated Rio Grande Colleges from the Texas State University System to the Texas A&M University System. Neither TAMU Chancellor John Sharp nor Sul Ross President Pete Gallego was aware of the bill’s introduction.
Gutierrez told the Avalanche one of the issues he encountered in West Texas was “the declining and deteriorating situation” at all four Sul Ross and Rio Grande campuses.
Enrollment in Alpine had dwindled to less than 1,500 students, and graduation rates had declined over the past 10 years. The campus can accommodate 5,000 students.
Gutierrez quoted the Sul Ross President’s Report dated Aug. 14, 2020, noting undergraduate applications for fall 2020 were down 31% from 2018, and down 25% from 2019. Numbers for the Uvalde, Del Rio, and Eagle Pass campuses were similar.
Said Gutierrez, “We have to understand we’re looking at a situation that is failing our communities, failing our students. In this situation, Texas A&M is the right fit with the right amount of resources to do better for this region.”
As part of the transfer process, the current university president would be required to resign, then reapply for the position once the transfer was completed.
Gutierrez noted that in Texas, Sul Ross was second from the bottom in endowments, or outside monies, coming into the school. He wanted to see Sul Ross join a university system with a reputation for rehabilitating and improving institutions. The Texas A&M System has made successes out of universities it took over in Laredo, Corpus Christi, Kingsville, San Antonio, and others.
“What I see now in Alpine is an empty parking lot every time I drive by Sul Ross on school days,” he said. “The folks in Alpine deserve better, and the folks regionally deserve better.”
On Tuesday, Gallego told the Avalanche that as a state employee, he wasn't permitted to have an official position on legislation.
However, he did say that no administration or faculty members at any of the university’s campuses were consulted prior to SB 522 filing, nor was Gallego aware of any public discussion on the issue.
Noting that funding for every state university was driven by enrollment and semester credit hours, Gallego said, “No matter what system we’re a part of, the formula remains the same. There’s no additional revenue that comes to anyone as a result of changing systems.”
Gallego, who has held the president’s position just seven months, said the university was putting creative incentives in place to increase enrollment and retain students.
“We’re in the process of rebuilding and enhancing the credibility and stature of Sul Ross. My job is to increase the value of the Sul Ross degree, and to make sure we do a phenomenal job of educating the students and providing a real college experience. There are a lot of cool things happening now on all our campuses,” said Gallego.
In College Station, Sharp was also unaware of SB 522 prior to its filing.
He told the Avalanche, “Our position is neutral. We will not support or oppose the legislation, but will comply with whatever the Legislature asks us to do.”
The public can comment on the bill by writing for or against it to their state congressmen. Normally, the public would be allowed to comment in person, but because of the COVID-19 scare, that option will likely not be available during this session.