Delta leaders look to TSTC for campus

Dental program TSTC

by Jacob Fischler | The Monitor

Posted: Monday, June 3, 2014 11:15pm

Apparently spurned by South Texas College, elected officials in the Delta have targeted the Texas State Technical College system in their quest to replace the defunct Mercado Delta with an educational facility.



Staffers for U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and state Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-La Joya, accepted a proclamation from Hidalgo County Commissioners Court on Tuesday in support of opening a Texas State Technical College campus in Edcouch. The school is also in talks to bring private-sector partners, including Toyota and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, on board.

“We’re all excited. Higher education for the Delta area, I think it’s great, I think that’s a good area for that,” said A.C. Cuellar, the Hidalgo County commissioner for Precinct 1, which includes the Delta. “I think they’re very well-deserved and I think it’ll help out the whole area.”

TSTC — the only state-operated technical college system in Texas, according to the proclamation — was founded in Waco in 1965 as James Connally Technical Institute of Texas A&M University. It later broke away from A&M and now operates as an independent technical college system. The school’s second campus opened in Harlingen in 1967.

The Delta campus could include programs in partnership with Toyota and the Gates Foundation, said Bobby Villarreal, an aid to County Judge Ramon Garcia.

Those programs could end up leading directly to jobs, said state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, whose district includes Elsa.

“My understanding is that the model would be something completely unique to the Rio Grande Valley in that the partners who would enter this venture with TSTC would not have an academic aspect, but a trade school aspect that would feed directly into major industry leaders in Texas, including the medical field in South Texas,” Canales said.

The Mercado Delta opened in 2009 after Hinojosa secured $2.6 million of federal money and Hidalgo County threw in another $500,000. Officials at the time hoped the upscale market could provide an alternative to the pulgas throughout the Rio Grande Valley and revive the economically depressed Delta.

But within three years, it was vacant. Today it sits unused.

The talks to fill the space with a TSTC campus remain preliminary, but the technical college system appears “very, very interested,” said Patricia Guillermo Williams, the communications director for Hinojosa’s office.

That level of interest contrasts with STC’s, some officials said, after talks to bring the Hidalgo County-based community college to the Mercado Delta stalled.

“For some reason or other, they weren’t really interested in it, and we got lucky and TSTC came to the rescue, came to offer us their school there,” Cuellar said.

The effort could still spur STC to action, Canales said.

“If one person doesn’t want something, the town and the community and the stakeholders have the ability to seek alternatives,” the Edinburg representative said. “And sometimes the people who have turned down the project wake up when they see other people are willing to do it. Sometimes people need a wake-up call.”

But Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board rules mandate the STC and TSTC would have to work together to bring a TSTC campus to Hidalgo County, TSTC Chancellor Michael L. Reeser said in a statement.

A “permanent location of TSTC in that location would require an invitation from STC and approval of the Legislature and the Coordinating Board for a campus in that area,” he said. “Additionally, new funding would be necessary since TSTC’s existing budget is completely allocated to the eleven existing TSTC locations across the state.”

However, there could be reason for optimism that the two college systems could work together due to the unique nature of the TSTC option.

“They’d offer different classes than STC does, so there’s not going to be any competition there,” Williams said.

Hinojosa, Canales, Longoria and other local leaders pitched a Delta campus to the STC board of directors in March, complete with the offer to use the Delta Mercado and other incentives. But coming just months after a bond referendum that secured the community college funding for new buildings and expanded operations, the proposal failed to take off.

“I think that the timing right now is the key factor because the bond election gives us a big workload,” said Roy De Leon, an STC trustee who represents the Delta. “It’s very time-consuming... it’s a fulltime job just trying to get organized.”

Officials have made a similar pitch to TSTC, Longoria said. But the potential to collaborate with private-sector partners sweetens the deal for TSTC, he added.

“Somewhat so,” he said, when asked how alike the two offers were. “But I think the TSTC one is a little more lucrative.”

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