Sul Ross president, TSUS chancellor dispute need to change university systems
By JOHN DANIEL GARCIA
ALPINE, MARFA – Alpine residents concerned with falling enrollment numbers and what they believe to be a failure in Sul Ross State University’s service to the community held a meeting last week at the Holland Hotel in Alpine to discuss the possibilities of changing university systems, the reduction of funds due to legislative requirements regarding the number of graduating students.
District Attorney-elect Rod Ponton of Alpine led the discussion at the meeting. Texas State University System (TSUS) Chancellor Dr. Brian McCall, his former chief-of-staff, and others from TSUS attended the meeting in what one attendee described as a “high jacking” of the meeting. “[They] flew into Alpine unannounced,” said Jose Aguayo in an email. “While several members of the community had a chance to speak and the meeting proved to be informative, one can say the meeting was dominated by Texas State University System and Sul Ross.”
One of the issues that is being explored by residents is for Sul Ross to leave the TSUS system of state universities and joining perhaps the Texas Tech University system.
Letters from business owners Justin Haynes of Big Bend Telephone Co., Kristin Lacy Cavness, a fifth-generation area rancher and businessworm, and Alpine Independent School District Superintendant Steve White were sent to Dr. Joseph Rollo, Vice Chancellor of the Texas Tech University System in support of the switch.
Sul Ross State University President Dr. Ricardo Maestas and Chancellor McCall sat down with Texas Tribune’s Reeve Hamilton at the Marfa Public Radio studios in downtown Marfa Tuesday to discuss the university’s enrollment decline and requests by a group of Alpine residents to incorporate Sul Ross into the Texas Tech University System, a move San Angelo State University made two years ago. The interview was taped and will be aired today at 10am on KRTS Marfa Public Radio.
Maestas linked the drop in enrollment of 192 students to the oil boom in the Permian Basin, which has a low unemployment rate of about 3.5 percent. He also pointed out that sophomores and seniors make up a bulk of those that have dropped out.
“[The students] were primarily concerned with several things,” said Maestas. “One of them was the fact [they] could go work in the oil fields at $20-$25 an hour versus continuing to go to school and take out large loans to stay in school.”
“I’m focused with the 1,833 students that are there […] and making certain they can get the best education they can possibly get,” said Chancellor McCall when asked about how concerned he and the Texas State University System are with the drop in enrollment. “This is not unique to Sul Ross. There are other Universities in the state that are experiencing the same thing. It happens from time to time.”
McCall went on to emphasize the system’s support of Sul Ross, such as a $7 million allocation to the university for a boiler system, and that, while the drop is a concern, they are working adamantly to correct the problem and increase enrollment, assuring listeners that, “We’re here to stay.”
Addressing citizen complaints about cuts in programs and majors, such as the Vet Tech program, Maestas and McCall explained a rule set by the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board that states there must be 25 graduates in five years for programs to continue. This issue has been a point of contention for many in the area, as some of the programs had been a major part of Sul Ross for a while.
Initiatives to increase enrollments were also discussed on air, such as a scholarship offering $1,000 toward housing per semester and a ten percent discount on housing to prospective students that sign up early. A new recruitment team and aggressive headhunting from other universities in the greater West Texas area were also mentioned with an expectation to see enrollment increase by spring.
Sul Ross has also started expanding programs thanks to a Title 5 grant, according to Maestas. A gaming program has been added to the Computer Science area of study in an effort to keep up with increasing demands of such majors and the Criminal Justice Master’s program has been revamped to allow for interested persons to complete the entire program online. This, in Maesta’s opinion, will increase enrollment in that department by attracting Border Patrol agents and other law enforcement workers who are unable to attend traditional classes. Maesta also brought up the fees owed to university systems by schools. The Tech system fees are much higher than those of the TSUS, which he believes would not be beneficial to Sul Ross.
McCall noted that the administration at Sul Ross has not been approached by the Tech system, saying they are not seeking incorporating the school. He also mentioned support to keep Sul Ross in its current system by the State Legislature, including Congressional candidate and Sul Ross Alum Pete P. Gallego.
“I’m confident we’ll stay in the system,” said Maestas, “and we will thrive.”
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