$60 million of state funding to develop new higher education opportunities in Fort Bend County.[/caption]
Regional education institutions are expanding workforce training and higher education opportunities during the next three years as the demand for skilled workers continues to rise in Fort Bend County.
The 84th Texas Legislature approved two bills resulting in the expansion of the University of Houston-Sugar Land campus as well as the construction of a Rosenberg campus for Texas State Technical College.
State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, authored House Bill 658, which allowed for the construction of a TSTC campus in Rosenberg. Zerwas also sponsored HB 100, which allocated $54 million for UHSL to construct a 150,000-square-foot academic building. HB 100 also allocates $14.9 million for Phase 2 construction for TSTC’s new campus.
Both expansions are intended to provide additional technical training programs for Fort Bend County students.
“It’s incredibly important for us to keep up with the higher education needs of the county,” Zerwas said. “There is still a large amount of people [in Fort Bend County] where a certification and a vocational education is going to be their higher education.”
Houston Community College is also in the middle of expanding its technical training programs by constructing a new campus in Missouri City next to City Hall. The new campus is expected to be complete by 2017.
Jeff Wiley, president of the Greater Fort Bend Economic Development Council, said HCC’s relocation will not only provide more technical training opportunities in Missouri City, but will also act as a catalyst for the expansion of UHSL.
“HCC is the largest feeder institution into the UH system,” Wiley said. “[Wharton County Junior College], TSTC and HCC are all going to drive additional demand for the UH degree programs.”
UHSL officials are in the design phase for the $54 million academic building. The campus is expected to start construction on the 150,000-square-foot academic building during the 2016-17 school year, and the new building is projected to be complete in time for the
2018-19 school year.
Although ground will not be broken on the project for another year, the new academic building is already receiving program commitments from UH’s College of Technology, College of Education and the Bauer College of Business.
The growing support from UH’s largest colleges has led the UH system to transition the Sugar Land campus from a teaching center into a main campus, said Dick Phillips, associate provost of outreach and community engagement for UHSL. The transition into a tier one campus will allow students attending UHSL to earn the same degrees offered at UH’s main campus in Houston.
The College of Technology is slated to become the flagship program for the new academic building and will bring an additional 30 degrees to the Sugar Land campus. The College of Education is expected to begin offering courses at UHSL beginning in January 2016. As UHSL continues to move new programs into the new building, it will also offer master’s degree programs from the College of Business, Phillips said.
Phillips said the growing student population of the Sugar Land campus over the past five years sparked the transition from a teaching center into a main campus.
“The main reason we are investing in the Fort Bend County area is that’s where the population growth is,” he said. “For the University of Houston to serve Houston’s needs, we need to build facilities where the population growth is.”
The Texas Legislature also transferred a 16-acre tract formerly owned by the Texas Department of Transportation to UHSL for additional development.
The tract, located at the intersection of Hwy. 59 and University Boulevard, will allow UHSL to plan for long-term growth in an effort to bolster future economic development around the campus, Wiley said.
“What we have to start working on is making sure we build things on that [campus] so that we maximize the impact of the education experience, the quality of life [and] the interconnectivity of that education with our employment base,” Wiley said.
Phase 1 of TSTC’s Rosenberg campus construction began in June and is projected to be complete by August.
The campus is designed to include six to eight buildings on the 80-acre tract. Construction of the first 110,000-square-foot building will add five additional technical training programs, including welding and cyber security, to TSTC’s Fort Bend County system.
Wiley said the expansion of TSTC will help connect students seeking technical training with local industries.
Randall Wooten, TSTC vice chancellor and executive in charge for Fort Bend County, said the new campus will also help satisfy the demands of the local and regional economy by providing more skilled workers to the Greater Houston area.
“There has been a need for [a] more skilled workforce, not only in the nation, but especially in this part of Texas for several years,” he said.
Wooten said the need for technical training in Fort Bend County became evident when local organizations and municipalities raised more than $40 million to fund Phase 1 construction. He said community support helped solidify support from the state Legislature and the eventual approval to construct the campus.
“There hasn’t been this much community support in the history of TSTC,” he said.
HCC is on schedule to break ground in the first quarter of 2016 on its new 75,000-square-foot campus. The new campus will relocate the programs offered at the Sienna Plantation campus and will add additional technical training programs.
The $35 million campus is slated to open by 2017 and is intended to serve a larger student population along Texas Parkway, HCC Chancellor Cesar Maldonado said.
Maldonado said the campus will offer academic courses as well as technical training courses to appeal to students who do not want to pursue a four-year degree.
“You can’t separate the academics from the technical [programs],” he said. “The resources of the entire HCC system will be shared in Missouri City.”
Wiley said the relocation of HCC from Sienna Plantation to Texas Parkway is expected to provide students a cheaper avenue to earn a bachelor’s degree. Because of HCC’s relationship with the UH System, the Missouri City campus is projected to see a rise in technically trained graduates as well as students beginning a four-year program at the UHSL campus.
“It’s a good move because it’s going to really position [HCC] where the demand for some of that workforce training is in Missouri City,” he said. “With all of the growth opportunities going on with UH, we have our junior college associates and technical training education facilities expanding as well.”