North Texas colleges and universities could be receiving big upgrades.
On Tuesday morning, state lawmakers reached a last-minute deal on additional funding for higher education construction projects across the state.
The bill, which now awaits Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature, will funnel more than $200 million into building and renovating new facilities on several campuses around Dallas-Fort Worth.
Some $113 million will fund the University of North Texas’ plan to build a new science and technology research building, the largest chunk of cash coming to any Dallas-area school. Another $59 million is earmarked for renovations on UNT’s Health Science Center at Fort Worth.
University leaders say the new facilities will help meet ballooning demand for engineering and other STEM degrees at their schools.
UNT’s engineering, data science and business master’s programs have all grown by about 40%, according to UNT President Neal Smatresk. As a result, the facilities housing these programs are all “wildly compressed,” Smatresk explained.
“We’ve pretty much tapped out our lab space on campus, and we desperately need more space.” – Bob Song, UNT-Dallas
“I can’t bring them in unless I can give them a good experience and good education,” Smatresk said.
With demand for STEM education growing, UNT-Dallas pushed for another building dedicated to the sciences on its campus. “We’ve pretty much tapped out our lab space on campus, and we desperately need more space,” said UNT-Dallas President Bob Song.
Now, more space could be on the way: $100 million more will go toward building a science facility at the University of North Texas at Dallas, if Abbott signs the bill.
Dallas schools aren’t the only ones getting a cash infusion. House lawmakers added about $200 million in funding for construction projects to the Senate’s original bill.
Unlike the original Senate version, the lawmakers’ final deal distributes a slice of the money to every region in the state. The house’s changes include giving more money to schools specializing in health sciences and to technical colleges.
UT Tyler and Texas A&M University at San Antonio are among several schools whose new funds will go towards healthcare education and research facilities in order to reduce the state’s health care worker shortage.
In total, Texas will distribute about $3.3 billion in funds from “tuition revenue bonds” towards its public colleges and universities. It will also rename the bonds as “capital construction assistance projects,” and hand oversight of the funds to the Texas comptroller.
“This legislation will forever change and reform the way we consider these capital projects in the future,” Senator Brandon Creighton, a Republican from Conroe, told the Texas Tribune.
The House’s version also creates a new oversight board that will assess universities’ proposed building projects in the future and establish guidelines for lawmakers to gauge the proposals.