History of Rio Grande College
In the 1960s, Sul Ross State University took advantage of a legal provision that granted resident status to off-campus educational programs. This allowed the university to provide accredited course work at off-campus extension centers and to charge tuition.
Classes sponsored by SRSU came to be offered in El Paso, Sierra Blanca, Van Horn, Monahans, Midland/Odessa, Big springs, Snyder, Brownwood, Kerrville, Del Rio, Uvalde and Eagle Pass. Qualified local instructors were contracted wherever it was impractical for the university to provide faculty.
As other universities began extending into the hinterlands, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board stepped in to formalize and insure program quality. The Board encouraged universities to work with local junior colleges to provide upper-level curricula, including master’s degrees.
Meanwhile, to ease the logistical problems of serving so many far-flung areas, SRSU pared down the number of its off-site learning centers. SRSU’s educational outreach became focused on Del Rio, Eagle Pass and Uvalde, where upper-level courses were made available in the evenings to area residents and graduates of Southwest Texas Junior College (SWTJC), and at Schreiner College at Kerrville.
At its modest beginning in the fall of 1973, the Sul Ross State University Uvalde Study Center (a name that covered all localities) opened its doors with an offering of 22 courses: 12 in Education, five in Business Administration, three in Animal Science and one class each in English and Sociology. The Center had one fulltime faculty member, a director, three support staff, and a number of adjunct faculty enlisted from the region.
Courses were taught in high school classrooms and wherever space could be found. Ceremonies for the Center’s first (15) graduates in 1976 were held in the community room of a Uvalde bank.
Administrators and faculty were gratified by local response to the Study Center as an accessible and affordable alternative to earning degrees from more distant and expensive institutions. Within two years of its founding, the Center was registering over 1,000 students per year. In time, courses and degree programs tended to adapt to local employment needs. A certification program in Special Education instruction was added. Courses were offered to train school principals and other administrators. Degrees in Criminal Justice were included. Master’s degree programs in Education and Business were expanded.
Reacting to an enrollment slump during the 1980s -- as federally-funded education and law enforcement programs were scaled back -- the Study Center began to offer its first daytime classes, opening doors on Saturdays and weekday noon hours.
A needed boost to the Study Center and, indeed, to the advancement of higher education throughout the entire (then underserved) southern half of Texas, came with the landmark South Texas Initiative in 1987. As a result of a successful lawsuit by LULAC, the Legislature voted to significantly raise the funding levels to institutions below the east-west line of Interstate 10. It was noted that state funding per student north of the line was around $295, while South Texas colleges were awarded only about $69 per student.
New appropriations were divided between the state’s three major university systems – Texas University, Texas A&M and the Texas State University System, of which Sul Ross is a member.
With receipt of nearly $35 million in the early 1990s, the Center broke ground for new campuses in Del Rio, Eagle Pass and Uvalde. Faculty and learning programs were expanded. By the mid-1990s, enrollment returned to 1,000-student levels, credit hours rose to more than 8,000 per semester, and the institution got a new name: Rio Grande College.
As a federally-recognized Hispanic-Serving Institution with one of the state’s fastest-growing Hispanic enrollment rates, Rio Grande College was awarded its first Title V grant ($2 million) in 2000 to support expansion of math and science learning programs. At the same time came the bad news that RGC’s Education Department threatened with probation because of a drop in Texas Teacher Certification Exam scores. Semester-by-semester, the Department concentrated on strengthening its preparatory work for the exams until, by 2006, almost every student was passing. Currently, RGC maintains a 99 to 100-percent passing rate for teacher certification tests, the highest sustained rate in Texas.
Award of a third Title V grant in 2008 significantly helped RGC reduce the “odometer factor” in earning a degree through the offerings of its disparate campuses, each lying about 60 miles apart. The $2.8 million grant provided for the installation in each of its classrooms the most advanced distance learning equipment available. Banks of oversized, high-definition plasma screens were installed to telecast lectures between the campuses. Classrooms were equipped with pin-drop sound systems. Bandwidth was tripled and old fashioned podiums were replaced with high-tech consoles from which instructors using touch screens can augment their lectures by accessing DVDs, Blu-ray and Internet programing.
In 2008, the last of its three new campus complexes was opened, a 30,000-square-foot facility at Uvalde which, like at its other locations, neighbors the campus of Southwest Texas Junior College.
The second decade of the 21st Century finds Rio Grande College matured into one of the state’s most progressive and dedicated small upper-level institutions. It has so far conferred nearly 6,000 degrees, a major contribution to the professional workforce of Southwest Texas and the Middle Rio Grande.