On May 1, UNT and the city of Frisco announced a partnership to build a new branch campus that would serve at least 5,000 students and offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
“This investment in our future provides our residents new opportunities to get bachelor’s or master’s degrees right here at home,” Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney said during the press
conference. “Affordable, quality education is an integral part of being a vibrant, innovative and sustainable community ... It also boosts economic development, which benefits Frisco and out entire region.”
The future branch campus will be located at the southwest corner of Preston Road and Panther Creek Parkway on 100 acres of land, which has been provided by the city at no cost. The university has the option to purchase another 50 acres for future expansion. Construction is expected to start no later than March 2022, according to UNT.
UNT has committed to making a $100 million investment in Frisco, $8.5 million of which is going toward purchasing the 50,000-square-foot building at 6170 Research Road. The building, owned by the Frisco Economic Development Corp., is currently occupied by LaunchPad City, a business accelerator and incubator. UNT will take over ownership Oct. 1, and the building will be renamed Inspire Park. It will be used for additional laboratory and classroom space, UNT President Neal Smatresk said.
The remaining $91.5 million will go toward building the branch campus.
UNT CFO Bob Brown said once the campus is completed, it will generate enough revenue and state enrollment reimbursements to pay for the building’s maintenance and operations.
“Generally we would like to see that there’s an adequate business flow, and that’s with an adequate student population,” Smatresk said, “We believe with 5,000 students there will be enough revenue flow that we won’t worry whether that campus is self-sustaining or not. Looking at the big picture, you can’t afford to build a campus unless the campus is going to be self-sustaining.”
The average undergraduate UNT student pays $230.11 per credit hour.
UNT’s main campus is in Denton, but the university has had a presence in Collin County for nearly 10 years. In 2010, UNT began offering classes at the Collin College Higher Education Center in McKinney. In 2016, UNT opened the New College at Frisco, an off-site instructional facility, at Hall Park.
“As we added more programs [at the New College at Frisco], we realized that to better serve the Frisco community and all of Collin County in the way we need to is by building a branch campus,” UNT Provost Jennifer Cowley said.
Cowley said the university is working with the business community to develop new degree programs and curriculum that will best fit employers in the area.
Meeting Frisco’s needs
FEDC Director Ron Patterson said landing a university has been one of Frisco’s top priorities for a number of years in large part because the business community has asked for higher education options.
“We quite often get questions from businesses who are looking at relocating. ‘Is there a four-year university presence, and is there a relationship with them?’” he said.
Patterson said businesses ask that question to know if there is a place for their employees and their families to receive or continue an education.
Companies also want to build a relationship with nearby universities. Having a university will help the city attract businesses looking to move, Patterson said.
“When you get a four-year university, especially one like UNT who has a Tier 1 research institute associated with it, it’s very important for businesses,” he said.
Cowley said UNT has been in discussions with employers in the area for the past six months to understand what their needs are for current and future employees.
“We are currently in the process of designing a new curriculum and expect to have additional programs that we’ll roll out in approximately a year,” Cowley said.
Smatresk said Frisco attracts a large number of high-tech companies and businesses centered around sports and entertainment, and UNT wanted to create a seamless pathway for students and employers.
“We have been engaging corporate partners in the region to develop a new curriculum that we believe [is] very advanced in terms of engaging students more intimately with internships and exposure with the growing high-tech and sports [and] entertainment environment,” Smatresk said.
The degree programs that will be offered include business, sports and entertainment management, design and psychology. UNT has already designed at least two new programs specific for Frisco, which are consumer experience management and data analytics. These programs are currently being offered at the New College at Frisco.
For UNT to offer programs at a branch campus, the university will need to get approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
The coordinating board was designated by the Texas Legislature to provide coordination and leadership for Texas universities and colleges. THECB does not approve new buildings, but it does approve the status of branch campuses, said Rex Peebles, THECB assistant commissioner for Academic Quality and Workforce.
“We don’t really approve sites or centers,” Peebles said. “UNT is free to go and set up a site—or what’s called a university center—wherever they want to. What we do approve is the courses and the programs that they offer there. They can open a site in Frisco, but they can’t offer courses or programs there without coordinating board approval.”
UNT is looking to create degree programs that cater to the needs of Frisco’s business community. Those programs would need to be approved by the THECB before classes began, Peebles said.
UNT’s branch campus would be set apart from its satellite campus in Frisco, which is considered a site or institutional center.
“Anything that’s designated as a site or an institutional center is really dependent upon the home campus, so to speak, for a lot of the support and a lot of the services there,” Peebles said. “But to be a branch campus, you’re really expected to stand on your own. You’re expected to have the full array of student support services that you would expect at the main campus, whereas a site or a teaching center would not be expected to have that full complement.”
Student services at a branch campus include campus administration, library services and student affairs, Peebles said.
UNT would have to submit a request for a branch campus designation at least six months before a coordinating board meeting, Peebles said. That allows staff to vet the request and ask the university questions, he said.
Smatresk said the university has submitted a request to THECB to offer classes at the FEDC-owned building once UNT takes ownership. UNT plans to submit a request to designate the campus as a UNT branch in 2019.
Smatresk said he does not foresee any issues seeking approval for the branch campus because everyone from the university, the city of Frisco, Collin County and even Collin College is in support of this initiative.
“A part of what THECB is looking for is what the level of investment is and how are we delivering programs that meet the needs of the community,” Cowley said. “In Frisco we are seeing the growth and are able to show that there is a need here.”