Texas State Representative, Dist. 74, Eddie Morales on Feb. 14 visited Sul Ross State University to address a controversial bill recently filed with the 87th Texas Legislature.
At issue was Senate Bill 522 filed Feb. 1 by state Senator, Dist. 19, Roland Gutierrez. If passed, the bill would move Sul Ross State University and its associated Rio Grande Colleges from the Texas State University System to the Texas A&M University System.
Offering some background, Morales said the City of Eagle Pass in conjunction with Maverick County Commissioners Court, the local school district, and others held a number of workshops. Based on workshop input, they felt there was neglect on the part of the Texas State University System with respect to the satellite campuses. They sent their legislator letters asking for a stand-alone four-year university.
Southwest Texas Junior College handles the Eagle Pass, Del Rio, and Uvalde areas, and that institution has 6,900 students enrolled for two-year associates degrees.
Morales told them asking the state to allocate $30-35 million for a four-year university in the middle of a pandemic would be difficult.
“There’s a captive audience there that we could possibly tap into,” said Morales. “What can we do to improve it at Sul Ross, or should we change into a different system. Should we go to Texas Tech, or TAMU, or stay as we are?”
After those workshops, Morales spoke with Sul Ross President Pete Gallego about the concerns expressed there. He stressed he wouldn’t file a companion bill without local input, and noted he had already heard from some Sul Ross alumni.
Addressing Gallego, Morales said, “I know you’ve been here less than a year, and you can’t work wonders. Some people, especially in Eagle Pass and Del Rio, feel that even with your help it might not be enough. They feel they are not getting enough attention.”
Another concern was the Sul Ross 19.5% four-year graduation rate from the data that Texas State University System Chancellor Brian McCall provided, and 30% graduation rate in six years, from a 2,300 total enrollment.
Someone in the sparse audience asked about the ramifications of going from one system to another, saying, “Most folks I know want local control. They want Pete to have a chance to work for us because the community knows and trusts him. Gutierrez spoke positively about the A&M system, but with no detail about the local ramifications of that change.”
Morales responded that the issue would likely be detailed by the chancellors from both systems during hearings for that bill. He said some had suggested Sul Ross become part of the Texas Tech system because they felt the university would get more attention there.
He also thought an honest examination should be made of the effect on the local communities before he filed a companion bill. Morales stressed that if HB522 made it through the Senate, that was only half the battle. It must also pass the House, then the governor could either sign or veto it.
Another in the audience said when Sul Ross was started, its mission was to serve the underserved, basically Hispanics.
“We have about 60% at risk students at Sul Ross,” he said. ”Our purpose was to give them the opportunity.”
Morales responded, “I’m not happy with a 19% graduation rate no matter who you’re serving.”
A flyer handed out by alumni before the meeting called the bill “a poorly planned, poorly timed proposal,” detailed several positive aspects of the status quo, and urged alumni and citizens to contact Morales and Gutierrez to express their opinions.