UTRGV plans ahead to address issues, improve system

EDINBURG — The excitement of the first cohort, first graduating class and even the controversial change of mascots are now part of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s history. This second year, officials said, will be full of reassessments.

“Somebody should do a book on how complex the first year was,” UTRGV President Guy Bailey said with a laugh. “I knew the first year would be quite complex, so in that respect the year didn’t disappoint me.”

UTRGV’s inaugural year was a rush of consolidating UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville’s systems, processes and even faculty and staff in time for a wave of students to return to classes.

And while the focus of the university is still divided into four main goals — student success, expanding educational opportunities, medical education and health care, and expanding research — this second year will involve reassessing processes to make them more efficient.

“Our faculty has pointed out a number of issues with business processes, and they are right about most of those,” Bailey said. “That includes everything from getting reimbursed for travel to putting people on the pay roll. We just want to make sure we have the best most efficient business processes possible.”

Part of the challenge, Bailey said, was that even as the two legacy universities were part of the same system — UT — they were different entities as far as business processes and student records systems, which created issues when the two institutions were brought under the new UTRGV umbrella.

“In Brownsville, they calculated your (grade point average) based on the total number of credit hours, including those earned in the community college,” Bailey said as an example. “Well, Pan American did not do that, so that meant we had two different students migrating in with two different ways of calculating grades … There were so many little decisions like that, so complex.”

Students were also entering each college under different course catalogs, which meant UTRGV had to offer three different courses to match the catalogs for UTRGV, UTB and UTPA, he said.

STRATEGIC PLANNING

Last year, Bailey established a strategic planning committee chaired by UTRGV Provost Havidán Rodriguez. The committee was put in charge of developing a plan that reflects the university’s core priorities, mission and vision.

“The goal is to develop a plan that is really roughly a three- to five-year plan,” Rodriguez said. “Where do we want to be as an institution? This is like a guide to guide us where we want to go.”

At the center of the plan is student success, which in part means expanding the number of courses and degree plans offered at each campus, maintaining affordable tuition and doing everything necessary to encourage graduation.

The strategic plan is being developed with feedback from the community, Rodriguez said, which the committee has been gathering through meetings with all kinds of stakeholders.

“So it’s important for the community to know what are the kinds of academic programs we are providing, the kinds of research programs that impact the community,” Rodriguez said. “We also act as an economic engine for the community because a new program typically means new faculty, new staff, additional students that are investing in the community.”

Those keeping tabs on industry said there is a need to graduate more engineers, scientists and teachers to work in the region, said Rodriguez.

The plan is about two-thirds done, Rodriguez said, and is expected to be presented to Bailey by the end of the year. Bailey plans to present it to the board of regents for approval at the beginning of 2017.

A big part of planning ahead involves the internal adjustments mentioned by Bailey. Rodriguez said his main focus will also be addressing some of the most pressing issues that are needed.

“In this past year, we’ve been trying to identify what the issues and challenges,” Rodriguez said. “Now is how do we solve these issues, how do we improve these services, both inside the university and outside the university, in the community?”

dperez-hernandez@themonitor.com