Speaking just for me, what normally gets me motivated to oppose something is when I am told something that is either completely untrue, has had the facts manipulated, or just plain does not make sense. At that point, I feel it is incumbent upon me to do a little research and attempt to present the facts. After all, I do believe in the political process and I fully understand that you win some and you lose some. While I can accept that things won't always be seen by others as I view them, I cannot accept people making decisions without having the facts.
Over the past few weeks, quite a few claims have been made by those supporting the UHV-A&M switch. Some have been made by Dale Fowler, some by the City Council, some by members of VEDC, and some by people posting on the VA website. I don't intend to attribute each comment to its appropriate source, and it isn't even really relevant to do so. From what I have seen thus far, each and every person in favor of the switch to A&M will agree with any statement that showers favor on that endeavor, regardless of the level of veracity.
When this whole ordeal began, I knew virtually nothing about university systems. Of course I knew that several state universities had campuses in other locations, but I was unaware of how pervasive it was. I also was unaware of the switch from Texas State to Texas Tech by Angelo State University. I don't pretend to know everything that transpired prior to that action, but I do know one thing for sure. I know that situation and this one are not identical. Some have attempted to make that point, and it is disingenuous to say the least.
As I stated earlier, there have been many claims made by many people. There have been more than a few projections floated, as well as promises made. There is no need to rehash it all, but I would like to focus on a few claims that are easily dispelled with just some rudimentary statistical analysis. I have heard several times that the Texas A&M System has a track record of taking university campuses in rural settings to levels never dreamed of before. Some are making it seem as though A&M can do no wrong and is just the fix for any situation similar to the one here in Victoria. Then there is the claim being made that this will grow Victoria and the economic boost will be so great that none will be able to deny it. We all heard Joe Truman tell us that this would garner a thousand fold return on investment. I think most of us heard Joe then stand behind his statement. So, me being the fact-checker that I am, I decided to take a look at the matter.
Of the current eleven universities in the Texas A&M system, there are only three that I can reasonably compare to UHV. One is A&M Texarkana, but there is not enough history there to have established a true record. So that left me with West Texas A&M and Texas A&M Kingsville. Neither of these universities are 100% comparable either, but it was as close as I could get.
So what numbers did I look at? Well, first of all, I checked to see how long each of the universities had been a part of the A&M System. I also thought it was pertinent to know their year of inception. After all, particularly in higher education, legacy can be a great selling point. Then I wanted to know the historical enrollment figures. Since so many people seem to think that A&M has been wildly successful in growing the student population in each of their System universities, I wanted to verify it. Lastly, I wanted to see the population trends of the communities in question. Since economic impact has been a focal point of much of the dialogue concerning the switch, I felt it was pertinent to analyze the growth or contraction of the respective communities. While population growth is not always indicative of prosperity, I think you would be hard pressed to offer up an example of prosperity without population expansion.
So here is what I found:
TAMU-Kingsville was established in 1925 (under a different name, of course). It joined the TAMU System in 1989. I was unable to locate a complete historical enrollment for TAMU-K, but I was able to find enrollment figures for a few years. They are as follows:
*1971 – 8,096
1989 – 5,783
1992 – 6,415
2000 – 5,949
2004 – 6,166
2008 – 5,698
2010 – 6,595
*Largest enrollment in the history of the institution
So, what do these numbers represent? To me, it is pretty clear that the enrollment at TAMU-K has remained fairly constant, with only a 14% increase in the 21 years it has been in the TAMU System. The Fall 2010 enrollment is also 1,501 shy of the record attendance achieved in 1971.
West Texas A&M was established (again, under another name) in 1910. It joined the TAMU System in 1990. Here are some enrollment figures for West Texas A&M:
*1969 – 7,935
1980 – 6,559
1990 – 6,191
2000 – 6,775
2010 – 7,842
*Largest enrollment in the history of the institution
In the 20 years since West Texas A&M has been in the A&M System, enrollment has increased just under 27%, or by 1,651 students. Again, the Fall 2010 enrollment is below the record enrollment in the history of the University.
Now let’s take a look at the population trends for Kingsville and Canyon, where West Texas A&M is located. The website that I collected the following numbers stopped with the 2006 estimates, but I used it because it was operated by the US Census Bureau.
Kingsville population numbers:
1990 – 25,276
2000 – 25,575
2006 estimate – 24,394
That is a decrease in population since A&M took over the local University in Kingsville.
Canyon population numbers:
1990 – 11,365
2000 – 12,875
2009 estimate – 14,529
So after 19 years of their local University in the A&M System, the population of Canyon, TX has increased by just under 28%. Let’s see how that compares with Victoria, where, according to some, we are in desperate need of the boost that only Texas A&M can provide.
Victoria population numbers:
1990 – 55,076
2000 – 60,603
2006 estimate – 62,169
That reflects an increase of roughly 13% in population since 1990. I am sure that number would have exponentially higher with A&M in town. The UH System should be ashamed for holding us down. Will any of this change anyone's mind? Probably not. But at least now a few people will have a few facts with which to formulate an opinion.