Aaron De Leon, director of vocational services at the Rio Grande State Supported Living Center, earned his bachelor of applied science from Wayland Baptist University in 2017. Then he turned around and started working toward his graduate degree with Wayland, too — all without ever leaving Harlingen.
“The University Center brings all these campuses to you and it gives you the opportunity to be able to pursue a degree from a different school you otherwise wouldn’t have had an opportunity to,” De Leon said. “I’d highly recommend the university center to other individuals that are trying to work and be able to pursue a bachelor’s degree or a graduate degree at these different universities because it just offers a great experience.”
The University Center opened its doors in 2011 as a 38,000-square-foot facility on the Texas State Technical College campus in Harlingen. The center represents a collaborative effort among TSTC, the City of Harlingen, and the Harlingen Economic Development Corporation.
“The University Center has helped Harlingen develop a more educated workforce,” said Raudel Garza, manager and CEO of Harlingen EDC. “We have hundreds of people who have earned their bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees who would have either not gone back to school or would have moved to continue their education.”
Sometimes, traveling outside of the region to attend school can be prohibitive for Rio Grande Valley students. That’s where the University Center — and its motto, “Taking you further, keeping you near” — comes in.
“It affords you the opportunity to attend four different universities without having to travel,” De Leon said. “You can take online courses and they even have instructors here at the facility that are willing to give classes and offer tutorial services and things of that nature for students attending the different universities.”
Currently, the University Center offers programs in partnership with Texas A&M University Kingsville, Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, and Wayland Baptist University.
“The majority of our students actually are working students,” said Yvette Garza-Garcia, director of the University Center. “They have families, they have lives outside of the classroom, so for a lot of them, they need the opportunity to continue their education after 5 o’clock — or after the workday is ended.”
The center was designed to accommodate nontraditional college students — anyone who falls outside the demographic of 18-year-olds who have just graduated high school.
“Most of the time you’ll see moms, dads, busy working professionals who just need the opportunity to continue their education,” Garza-Garcia said. “There are no obstacles that can’t be overcome.”
Julie Gonzalez, human resources business partner with Texas State Technical College, is pursuing a bachelor’s degree of applied science at the University Center.
“The experience has been incredible,” she said. “It’s been a seamless process. It’s exciting that here on our TSTC campus, we do have the University Center so we’re able to partake in the universities that we have partnerships with.”
Gonzalez is working toward her degree via Wayland Baptist University. She attends some of her classes at the University Center, and says she appreciates the chance to come in and chat with her adviser in person.
“I just encourage everyone and anyone who wants to attend — especially our current students here at TSTC — once they’re done with their two-year degrees, if they want to transition and get a four-year college degree, this is the best place to do it,” Gonzalez said. “It’s right here locally and it’s convenient.”
Harlingen residents can use the University Center as a launch pad for their education, and the facility has spurred additional educational growth in the city.
“TSTC produces many associate-level degrees, but doesn’t have baccalaureate programs or even more advanced degrees,” Garza said. “The UC has helped launch other educational facilities in the Harlingen area, including Our Lady of the Lake’s campus only 10 minutes from downtown. University of Texas Rio Grande Valley has also partnered with Harlingen’s school district to work on a new Early College High School and more bachelor’s programs at that new campus or at the existing School of Medicine.”
All those educational opportunities translate into economic advantages for Harlingen.
“The UC has helped retain employees and has helped others get better-paying job opportunities in Harlingen,” Garza said. “It has also helped us recruit more companies.”
To read more about the currently active programs at the University Center, visit tstc.edu/theuniversitycenter. For more information on the Harlingen Economic Development Corporation, go to harlingenedc.com.