Donations, fees help fund capital improvements at Texas State

Beginning this fall, the ever-growing student body at Texas State University will begin to see years of construction projects open for their use as crews complete work on several multimillion-dollar facilities.

Nancy Nusbaum, associate vice president for finance and support services planning, said the response to the projects has been enthusiastic.

"Students wanted to get in and sign up for housing at the north side complex [North Campus Housing Complex] long before it was ready," Nusbaum said. "I get stopped all the time by faculty to show appreciation and by students that say, 'I can't believe I'm graduating before I can use this.' People are really excited about the way it's changing."

One catalyst for the university's expansion has been the steady annual increase in its student enrollment.

In 2000, fall enrollment was 22,423 students. Enrollment for the 2012 fall semester is expected to reach more than 34,000.

According to a Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board study, that number is projected to hit 37,000 students by 2015, and 41,500 students by 2020.

That increase is expected to overwhelm current university buildings as well as the energy and utilities infrastructure available for the campus.

Under construction

More than $300 million worth of projects are under way, including West Campus Residence Life Housing ($63.4 million), the North Campus Housing Complex ($46 million), the Performing Arts Center complex ($83 million), the Undergraduate Academic Center ($42.7 million) and the STAR One center for research and commercialization ($6.95 million).

Construction on the Performing Arts Center complex—which includes what will be a public parking garage—dominates the view from University Drive.

Thomas Clark, director of the School of Music, said the state-of-the-art acoustics of the center will enhance music laboratory settings so students can better hear the way they harmonize together.

"The new recital hall and theater are important to students in two ways," Clark said. "First as a learning laboratory for music students to display their best work in public performance; and for all students on campus to have the opportunity to hear fine classical music, Latin music and jazz live in a beautiful venue."

The Performing Arts Center is expected to hold its first performances in January 2014.

Clark said that being able to offer students the opportunity to perform in a world-class recital hall can be a dealmaker for future students to decide that Texas State is where they want to study music.

Master plan

The university completed a Campus Master Plan in 2005, which highlighted a need for some of the facilities currently under construction.

Among the reasons cited were increased enrollment, outdated performance venues and research facilities, and a need for expanded athletic facilities because of the university's move to the Western Athletic Conference.

Demolition of older dormitories for academic halls along with rising enrollment led the university to update the master plan in 2011, adding more student housing to the mix.

As the state has decreased higher education funding during the past decade, Texas State and other state institutions have increased tuition.

Annual tuition and fees at Texas State cost $8,230, an increase of 12.5 percent from the 2011–12 school year. That is slightly higher than the statewide average of public universities—about $7,000—and below schools such as UT-Austin ($9,794) and UT-Dallas ($11,168).

The most recent tuition increases, which will take effect for the spring 2013 semester and the following academic year, were approved by the University Board of Regents in May in response to another funding cut by the state Legislature.

Nusbaum said other sources are used to help fund the capital improvement projects.

"The Board of Regents approved in 2008 a $2 additional increase to the athletic fee per credit per year from 2009 to 2013," Nusbaum said.

The student athletic fee is a major source of funding for debt services projects, she said. The athletic fee for fall 2012 will be $270 for an undergraduate student taking 15 credits of coursework.

When students pay for their housing, some of the money used for room and board goes back into paying on the bonds that were used to build the housing.

Other revenue comes from concessions and other items sold by the university that it considers to be "indirect contributions" to the construction projects.

Regional importance

Texas State has been increasing its research prowess and in January was named an "emerging research university" by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Amy Madison, president and CEO of the Greater San Marcos Partnership, said that for the non-university community in San Marcos and the region, that means the facilities such as the STAR One complex also could fuel economic activity and local, regional innovation.

She pointed to a recent partnership between the Texas State Material Sciences Department and Goodrich Corp., an aerospace firm that has a manufacturing factory in San Marcos.

"Bringing that forward [will] get not just a local and regional economic engine, but it will hopefully benefit the entire Austin-to-San Antonio region," Madison said.

Madison met with eight technology companies in July that have expressed enthusiasm for the STAR One complex.

"Bricks and mortar are great," Madison said. "But it's what happens inside of those buildings that will benefit the community."