UTRGV moves forward with plans to open student center in Matamoros

BROWNSVILLE — Plans to open the first student service center across the border from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Brownsville campus are moving forward as university officials have identified a possible location in Matamoros with the help from Mexican officials.

“This is for students who live across and can’t come back and forth for non-instructional issues,” explained UTRGV Deputy President Janna Arney. “It’s being able to provide a location where new students and current students could be able to transact with the university but in Matamoros, in their hometown.”

The university was approached by Mexican officials who were interested in partnering to create the center in their city, Arney explained. Last week, she met with a group of officials including Jose Antonio Tovar, Matamoros minister of education; Otto Van Maerssen, U.S. Consul General; Karla Obregon, public affairs officer; Aristoteles Cerda, Matamoros director of public libraries; and Mauricio Ibarra, Matamoros director of urban planning to tour a location across the bridge that could work as the initial location.

“It’s dedicated space within a building, but the building is populated by other Mexican agencies,” she said. “So the first step is to draft and MOU.”

The building is close to all three international bridges in Brownsville, she said, which they hope will make it an accessible location for students.

The MOU, or memorandum of understanding, has not been drafted yet but it will include details of the use of the space. The MOU will have to go through several approvals before being finalized.

Ideally, the space would work as a small-scale replica of UTRGV’s U-Central, a center aimed at providing a one-stop shop for prospective and current students including financial aid, registration and admissions.

The idea is to have students focus their travels across the border for class purposes only and give them a chance to do all other necessary interactions with university staff in their hometown. Because this location might not have the space or capacity to hold a large staff, Arney said they will start with the basics and add services based on demand.

UTRGV has a student population of nearly 28,000, most living in the United States, but about 620 students reportedly live in Mexico as it’s common in border towns with a campus in close proximity to an international bridge.

“What we need to do is find out what students need,” she said. “So much of the students’ work is online now, but what drives a student to need to come over to take care of business outside of instruction? So we are really going to have to reach out to our students and say ‘what services do you need?’ And then that’s what we’ll provide.”

Arney said it’s too early to announce an opening date considering they don’t know how long the approval process will take. But the idea is to get it running as soon as possible.

“It’s something that Dr. (Guy) Bailey has talked about since his arrival; how do we better serve all of our students,” Arney said. “Our region is not just the cities where we have campuses; it’s the entire region that surrounds us and Matamoros is an important part of that.”