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University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and its School of Medicine helping to keep best and brightest talent at home in deep South Texas - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Featured: Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortéz, left, and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, flash the famous Texas Longhorns “Hook ’em” sign on Wednesday, January 2, 2019 during a photo session soon after Cortéz took his oath of office during a ceremony held in the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court room, located on the 1st floor, at 100 E. Cano Street.

Photograph Courtesy JULIA SULLIVAN


University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and its School of Medicine helping to keep best and brightest talent at home in deep South Texas


When I authored Senate Bill 24, the legislation that created the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and UTRGV School of Medicine, in 2013, the main goal of the bill was to provide world-class educational opportunities to the people of South Texas and empower a traditionally underserved community. In less than five years of existence, UTRGV has accomplished that and much more.

On Friday, December 14, 2018 and Saturday, December 15, 2018, UTRGV graduated more than 2,500 students during Fall 2018 Commencement ceremonies. The graduates include members of UTRGV’s first freshman class that began when the school opened in August 2015. These future leaders will undoubtedly contribute to the thriving RGV and Texas economy.

In almost no time at all, UTRGV has risen through the ranks to become the fourth-best university in Texas according to This has been accomplished with a student body that closely resembles the region itself. UTRGV has the largest Hispanic enrollment in Texas, is second nationally in undergraduate four-year degrees to Hispanics, and is fourth nationally for graduate degrees awarded to Hispanics.

With campuses from Rio Grande City to South Padre Island, UTRGV provides more than 28,000 students throughout the RGV with the opportunity to improve their lives through education. Many of those students are local. In fact, over 90 percent of the latest freshman class are from the RGV. And even better, UTRGV is accessible to all, regardless of income. The school was recently ranked first by Washington Monthly for lowest net price for low-income students, and routinely ranks as having one of the lowest student debt averages.

All of this means that UTRGV is helping to keep the best and brightest home in the Valley. New initiatives like the new Center for Innovation & Commercialization, which includes a business incubator that will provide space for startups and connect entrepreneurs with investors, means that our innovators will no longer have to move to places like Austin and San Francisco to be successful.

In addition to the top-notch education provided by the school, UTRGV is having a substantial economic impact on the region. To date, there have been roughly $174.5 million in capital investments made in the area. UTRGV employs thousands of people throughout the Valley in a wide variety of positions. Meanwhile, UTRGV has supported business growth of both startups and expansions, leading to $37.5 million in sales and hundreds of new private-sector jobs. The school has also assisted thousands in the region with trainings and technical assistance.

As impressive as all of these accomplishments of the university are, we cannot forget the profound impact that the School of Medicine is having on the health and economy of the Valley, where one in five are uninsured.

Firstly, the SOM is increasing access to care by bringing new physicians to the area. The SOM has 169 residents in 10 Graduate Medical Education programs, with 64 percent of those practicing in the Valley. The SOM is also ensuring that a significant portion of these new physicians reflect the community. Of the 155 current medical students, 55 percent are underrepresented minorities and 50 are from the Valley. This will ensure a diverse and local physician workforce that can better understand the region’s culture and health care needs.

Much like UTRGV undergrads, these new doctors will not be weighed down with unmanageable student debt as the UTRGV SOM has been ranked as the third most affordable medical school in the country by The U.S. News & World Report.

In addition to training the next generation of medical professionals, the SOM provides immediate health care to the region. The SOM operates over 20 patient care sites, including Area Health Education Centers AHECs in Cameron County (Bob Clark Center), Hidalgo County (San Carlos) and Starr County (La Victoria). AHECs increase access to primary care in rural and underserved areas, develop and enhance education and training within communities.

The SOM also operates the John Austin Peña Memorial Center, a clinic which provides care for adolescents who are at risk with medical, mental health, and appetite disorders, and a traveling clinic, Unimóvil. Altogether, the SOM has conducted over 57,000 outpatient and 4,000 inpatient visits since 2015.

Additionally, the SOM is making investments to address some of the region’s biggest health care challenges. For example, the South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute has a team of researchers focused on reducing obesity and seeking a cure to diabetes, a severe metabolic disorder that disproportionately impacts the RGV. The SOM is also planning to start programs in neuroscience and cancer immunology in the near future.

Education and health care are two of the most important factors in a region’s economic growth. The impact that UTRGV and the SOM have had in such a short period of time on improving both factors is astonishing. With the continued support of the community and the state, there is no ceiling on what the RGV can accomplish. That is why this legislative session our Valley delegation will continue to fight for the funding needed to make the investments that are transforming the Valley into a region that can compete with any in the nation.


The University of Texas System’s eight academic institutions recently held commencement ceremonies, celebrating more than 22,000 new graduates who successfully completed their college careers in December.

The UT System awards more degrees than any other public higher education system in Texas. More than one-third of all degrees awarded by Texas public higher education institutions in 2017 were earned at UT institutions. Over the past five years, the number of degrees awarded at UT institutions increased by 20%. And more than 43% of all UT degrees — 51% of undergraduate degrees — were awarded to minority students in 2017.

“A college degree is critical to economic and social mobility. When a student graduates, having a degree positively affects not just his or her life, but also their families, communities and society as a whole,” said UT System Chancellor James B. Milliken. “UT faculty and staff have a profound commitment to student success, and I congratulate the institutions and the graduates on these impressive fall numbers.”

The number of degrees awarded in December at each UT academic institution follows:

UT Arlington – 5,400
UT San Antonio – 4,179
UT Austin – 2,741
UT Dallas – 2,713
UT Rio Grande Valley – 2,628
UT El Paso – 2,577
UT Permian Basin – 400+
UT Tyler – 1,510

These new UT alumni are leaving college with less debt and more earnings power on average than many of their peers. According to UT System’s Office of Strategic Initiatives, the debt-to-income ratio of UT baccalaureates is 7.8% one year after graduation, below the recommended threshold of 10%.

About The University of Texas System

For more than 130 years, The University of Texas System has been committed to improving the lives of Texans and people all over the world through education, research and health care. With 14 institutions, an enrollment of more than 235,000 students and an operating budget of $19.5 billion (FY 2019), the UT System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States.

UT institutions produce nearly 59,000 graduates annually and award more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees and almost two-thirds of its health professional degrees. Collectively, UT-owned and affiliated hospitals and clinics accounted for more than 7.8 million outpatient visits and 1.6 million hospital days last year.

Across UT institutions, research and development expenditures total $2.7 billion – the second highest among U.S. public higher education systems – and the UT System is regularly ranked among the top 10 most innovative universities in the world. The UT System also is one of the largest employers in Texas, with more than 21,000 faculty – including Nobel laureates and members of the National Academies – and nearly 85,000 health care professionals, researchers, student advisors and support staff.


The University of Texas at Austin (UT) and a group led by the Oak View Group (OVG) will build a world-class arena on campus that will be home to Texas Men’s and Women’s basketball games, graduations, concerts and other events. It is expected to be opened in 2021.

The innovative 35-year agreement between UT and ArenaCo — which includes OVG, Live Nation, C3 Presents and Matthew McConaughey — will be groundbreaking in college athletics and provide a public benefit for UT and the City of Austin for decades to come. The $338 million venue will be constructed on land fully owned by UT without using any university or public money.

The arena will be located on a current parking lot south of Mike A. Myers Stadium. It will replace the 41-year-old Frank C. Erwin Center, which will make way for the future expansion of the Dell Medical School. UT may be responsible for certain infrastructure improvements near the site to make it ready for construction.

“UT’s historic agreement with this highly regarded company will result in a modern arena on campus for our students, alumni, supporters and the Austin community,” said UT Austin President Gregory L. Fenves. “The arena will provide for an unforgettable UT basketball experience and represent the best of our university.”

The 10,000-seat arena will provide an intimate, state-of-the-art men’s and women’s Longhorn basketball fan experience and feature student seating surrounding the court. Much like how the Erwin Center currently operates, the new venue will be a prime location for university, campus, community and high school events. Additionally, the new arena is designed to expand to 15,000 seats and will provide a world-class venue for touring concerts and shows.

“This is a truly wonderful opportunity for The University of Texas, our basketball programs and the City of Austin,” said UT Vice President and Athletics Director Chris Del Conte. “We’re building one of the nation’s finest arenas that will provide an awesome home court advantage for our men’s and women’s basketball programs. The 10,000-seat facility will bring our fans and students close to the action and provide an exciting and engaging game day experience. On top of that, it will have the capacity to expand to 15,000 when needed and be a big-time concert venue that draws premier performers to our great city.”

“There are very few brands as dominant and as well-known as The University of Texas and Longhorns, and there are very few cities that are growing at the speed of Austin. This is a rare opportunity to be partners with one of the greatest academic institutions in the world, UT, and to be building a world-class arena for one of the world’s great emerging markets, Austin. We are grateful to President Fenves and Vice President and Athletics Director Del Conte and look forward to creating one of the best arenas in all of the world, for Austin and The University of Texas,” said Tim Leiweke, chief executive officer of OVG.

C3 Presents and Live Nation will bring first-class entertainment to the arena. “C3’s headquarters are in Austin. We work here, raise our families here, and as a native Austinite, it is a dream opportunity to have this agreement with UT and work with world-class partners to bring this project to life. We are incredibly excited for the level of experiences and entertainment that this incomparable arena will bring to our great city,” said Charles Attal, partner, C3 Presents.

Austin-based Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey will act as the “Minister of Culture” at the venue, ensuring that Longhorn and Austin cultures are front and center and helping create a fan experience unlike any other.

“It’s time to raise the bar. It’s time to excel, on the court and in the stands. It’s time for an authentic home court advantage for our Longhorn basketball teams. It’s time for a choice experience for our fans. It’s time to be a preferred venue for headliners from across the globe. It’s time for quality, success, and victories for the Longhorns and for Austin. It’s time for the big show. It’s time. Hook ’em,” said McConaughey, a 1993 UT Austin graduate.

The UT System Board of Regents on Thursday, December 20, 2018 authorized UT Austin to complete negotiations and enter into agreement with OVG and its partners.


Karen Adler and J.B. Bird contributed to this article. Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa represents Texas State Senate District 20, which extends from Hidalgo County to Nueces County. For more this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (


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