Texas A&M University-Kingsville served as the location for a regional discussion presented by The Texas Tribune, Thursday, Feb. 25, ath Caesar Kleberg Wildlife.
Texas Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. and State Representative Jose Manuel (J.M.) Lozano participated in the forum. The recent visit serves as a milestone for the media organization, as it is the 28th time that The Texas Tribune has handpicked a college campus as grounds for a public civil engagement with current state officials.
With Texas Tribune Chief Executive Officer and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith serving as the moderator, a variety of topics were discussed in front of a packed crowd at the Curtis and HP Pinnell Family Memorial Auditorium.
The conversation handled the price of oil and its effects on the state’s economy, universal healthcare, the prioritizing of educational funding, as well as who the senator and representative would be voting for in their respective political parties. Besides the latter question—which both Lucio and Lozano were able to carefully dodge despite Smith’s persistence—the state officials were able to address many of the pressing issues brought forth during the hour-long discussion.
A major point from Smith took aim at educational funding. The moderator asked if the old-school edict Republicans are often painted with holds any merit today. “Is there any correlation between money and performance?” asked Smith in reference to Texan schools. The question was prefaced with Smith stating that Texas Education Agency (TEA) studies have shown that the best schools in Texas generally spend about $1,000 more per student than lower performance schools. Lozano responded to Smith’s question, saying, “It’s definitely part of the solution.” Not without vehemence, Lozano also suggested that having schools operate on different rating systems, such as a point-based system as compared to a letter grade system, is unjust. As he noted, “tests are not adequate modifiers for intelligence, capability, or potential.” Lucio shadows Lozano’s sentiments concerning the lack of funding allotted to public and higher education, stating: “You cannot barrage today’s schools with yesterday’s prices,”
Theresa Garza, a political science lecturer at TAMUK, took center stage during the open forum portion of the discussion, asking the state representatives about the diversification of our nation’s economy by way of higher education. Garza noted that since 2003, when the senate passed the deregulation on student fees, tuition has steadily increased every year for students across the nation. While Garza is thankful for resources such as Texas Pell grants, her concerns are centered on the rapid increase of tuition costs versus the stagnant, virtually motionless, increase in student aid. “I don’t want to lose them, but unfortunately, many of [my students] cannot afford to finish school,” said Garza. Smith added to Garza’s comments by saying that tuition debt has surpassed credit debt as the number one indebtedness in the country.
Lozano, having recently reviewed intermittent studies conducted, said, “only nine of 38 college campuses have actually seen a significant rise of tuition, after you account for inflation.” However, he does acknowledge that the ever-growing burden of obtaining an education is one that needs to be addressed by state legislature soon. Lucio suggests that the much of the financial burden planted upon students need to be furthered reflected upon before embarking on such an ambitious journey. The senator also noted that completion rates among colleges will need to improve before the situation improves. After 2011, completion rates show only one in five Hispanic/African American students were obtaining degrees, with statistics even lower for more impoverished areas.
In regard to TAMUK’s growth and the ambitious goals set forth with its 50-year plan, in which 60 percent of individuals ranging from ages 25-35 will have some form of educational certification or college degree by the year 2030, Senator Lucio drove home that he believes TAMUK will serve as a desirable destination for students striving to reach their academic dreams. “I’ve told President Tallant, who I respect so much, that I’d be more than happy to help him recruit young men and women from the Valley who would want to come here…because you can be anything you want,” said Lucio.
“Marketing is so important,” supplemented Lozano. “It’s finding a unique marketing plan, and [Marketing and Communications] have done exactly that. They’ve mastered it, and that needs to continue as the competition increases.” With the inclusion of the recent Veterinary Tech facility, along with already well-established schools in engineering, music, and teaching, Lozano holds that TAMUK is a place with much to offer.
In regard to needs of TAMUK students, Lozano stated, “from my side, I work for you guys. Whatever the students or President Tallant tells me they need…that I what I fight for. You guys are the professionals…whenever the people in Austin or in Washington do things on their own, and do not consult with or do the opposite of whatever the people want who are in favor of the bill, that’s when you get into problems. That’s why it’s important for people to let us know what they want.”
Follow Raul Altamirano on Twitter: @raul_sotx