Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Breakup: University of Texas at Brownsville to Part Ways with Texas Southmost College, Ending Unusual 20-Year Partnership

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Breakup: University of Texas at Brownsville to Part Ways with Texas Southmost College, Ending Unusual 20-Year Partnership

Article excerpt

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Ask Texas Southmost College trustee Adela Garza about her school losing its longtime, wealthier university partner- University of Texas at Brownsville and she is relieved, even proud. Praising the pending split, Garza expects tuition will fall and educators will be able to focus on preparing people for the workforce.

On the other hand, if one asks TSC trustee David Oliveira his opinion, he thinks the breakup between the community college and upper-division UTB will be "one of the greatest tragedies" his hometown might ever endure. "I don't see any way we can maintain the current level of services without raising either tuition or taxes or both."

Whether either trustee's assessment is accurate remains to be seen. What is known is that TSC, which, along with UTB serves one of the most impoverished areas of the country, is on a path fraught with financial risk and uncertainty. As UTB cuts ties with TSC, the outcome is expected to greatly affect a city of 176,000 whose 2009 per capita income was less than $14,000 annually.

The split will mark the official end of an unusual 20-year partnership between TSC and the University of Texas System that, for the first time, a ushered four-year university education into overwhelmingly Latino Brownsville, the southernmost city in Texas. For many years, residents had clamored for the opportunity to earn bachelor's degrees without having to commute more than an hour to the nearest university.

However, the partnership is dissolving amid unresolved, long-running fiscal disputes between UT and TSC, as well as power struggles between two governing boards. At times, both governing boards have each tried to politically one-up the other. In recent years, the fracas has seen TSC demand more state monies for its role in the partnership and UT officials trying to swallow community college assets at the expense of taxpayers in Brownsville where about 29 percent of families live below the poverty level.

Some observers wonder whether the quality of local higher education will suffer once UTB and TSC split.

"Things can work out for both schools, but everyone is better off if there's a high level of cooperation," says Dr. Raymund Paredes, Texas higher education commissioner. "Too many south Texans need both schools."

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Since the early 1990s, UTB and TSC have formed a community university of sorts known as UTB/ TSC in which academics and most other operations are combined and consolidated. As partners to this day, the schools share the same faculty who teach many types of students in their courses, share a single campus in which associate-degree seekers and bachelor-degree seekers often take the same courses together, and one president in Dr. Juliet Garcia and her administration. Such a structure has resulted in millions in cost savings. Nonetheless, UTB is governed by the UT System board of regents and TSC by trustees such as Oliveira and Garza who are elected by residents of the local tax district.

The partnership calls for open admission to all first-time freshmen and first-time upper-division undergraduates, so UTB/TSC hasn't required the applications typical at most other universities. Instead, students matriculate seamlessly through UTB/TSC. A student pursuing a bachelor's degree can earn it in four years. But if a student earns an associate's degree and wishes to continue toward a bachelor's, he can do so by merely re- enrolling at UTB/TSC without needing to apply for admission. This differs from universities that have articulation agreements with community colleges in which the former accepts defined sets of academic credit from the latter in order to improve transfer rates of community college graduates. At UTB/TSC, there are no barriers to transferring community college credits.

"That's the greatest aspect of the UTB/TSC partnership because, historically, community college transfer rates around here have been low," says Dr. …

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