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Despite budget woes, bills to help pay for proposed campus are making progress

American-Statesman (05/18/2003)

By Camille Wheeler

ROUND ROCK — Southwest Texas State University is out of room. Texas is out of money.

But state lawmakers battling an estimated $9.9 billion budget deficit have passed two bills through the House and Senate earmarked to help build a permanent home for the proposed $26.5 million Round Rock Higher Education Center.

SWT, classified as a “space-deficit” institution by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and Austin Community College would offer graduate and undergraduate degrees at the higher education center tentatively scheduled to open in fall 2005.

“ It was a very tough session to get access for funding for anything,” said Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, who authored House Bill 2522 specifically for the Round Rock campus. “This is a huge opportunity for Central Texas to expand our higher education and plan for our growing needs.”

Krusee’s bill would authorize Texas State University System regents to issue tuition revenue bonds not exceeding $26 million to build the Round Rock facility. The House has appropriated $4 million to pay for bond interest.

Senate Bill 1297, written by Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, is one step ahead of Krusee’s bill, which was referred to the Senate Education Committee last week. Ogden is a member of that committee.

Ogden’s bill, which would authorize the issuance of $27 million in tuition revenue bonds for the Round Rock campus, is scheduled for a public hearing today with the House Higher Education Committee.

The bill passed the Senate on May 9. It primarily would benefit the University of North Texas System, which could receive almost $53 million in bonds. It would also allow Texas State University System regents to issue revenue bonds not exceeding $27 million for the Round Rock center.

Ogden called his bill’s preliminary passage an important victory, especially for Round Rock students who must drive to Austin or San Marcos to obtain degrees from public universities.

The Round Rock campus would give the University of Texas and SWT some breathing room. UT, which has a target enrollment cutoff of 48,000, enrolled a record 52,273 students last fall. SWT does not have a target cutoff, but a record 25,065 students enrolled at the San Marcos campus last fall.

SWT’s campus is about 250,000 square feet short of meeting educational and general needs.

The Round Rock center was created in 1998 as the North Austin/Williamson County Multi-Institution Teaching Center. The center, which was renamed last fall, has operated in portable buildings at Westwood and Round Rock high schools since 1998.

Officials project a first-year enrollment of approximately 5,000 at the new campus.

“ We’ve accomplished everything to this date that we could have,” said Round Rock Mayor Nyle Maxwell, noting that city officials have been working for a decade to expand the higher education center.

Maxwell, elected a year ago, has met with legislators about both bills. “I don’t think we could be in better shape,” he said.