New Texas A&M campus is the workforce investment we need

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Texas A&M University has announced plans to build a $350 million satellite campus in downtown Fort Worth. That’s the kind of investment in education our region needs.

The proposed campus will be “a hub for collaboration between key Fort Worth industries and top research, education and workforce training assets of the Texas A&M System,” according to the university’s website. Officials say it will offer accredited classes and continuing education from the Texas A&M system, including the Texas A&M School of Law, the Texas A&M Health Science Center and Tarleton State University.

Laylan Copelin, vice chancellor of marketing and communications for the A&M system, told us the campus will be “heavily tilted toward research.” There won’t be student housing and there likely won’t be many underclassmen on campus.

“It’s going to be a real hybrid of a campus,” Copelin said. “There will be some people who are already in the workforce and need additional training, or an additional certificate. There will be a lot of early-career and mid-career people.”

Representatives from several North Texas employers attended the announcement of the campus last week, including AT&T, Bell and Lockheed Martin. Copelin said industry needs will inform academic and research programs.

Right now, the whole plan is tentative. The university system, the city of Fort Worth, Tarrant County and a business group called Fort Worth Now have all signed a non-binding memorandum. No one has yet signed on a dotted line.

But there’s no doubt this is a positive development. As we have written before, Texas needs to invest in education to build a stronger, smarter workforce. According to the public policy think tank Texas 2036, by the time of our bicentennial, 71% of jobs in our state will require a postsecondary credential. But only 32% of Texas high school graduates earn one within six years of graduating from high school. Welcoming California transplants can help a little, but Texas needs serious investments like the one from Texas A&M to develop its homegrown workforce. We don’t see this as an intrusion on the turf of Texas Christian University or other area colleges. There are plenty of Texans to educate.

The project investment here — $350 million — is significant. We applaud this step and hope to see the project succeed. We would love to see a similar investment near downtown Dallas, where the University of North Texas and Dallas College are growing.

We will offer one note of caution. All of this effort is rightly focused on research and workforce development. That’s good for a satellite campus. But we don’t want our flagship universities to lean that direction to the exclusion of a traditional liberal arts education. A degree from a Texas university should bring real value in the marketplace, but it should also connect students to more Platonic ideas about what is good, beautiful and true in the world.

If things go according to plan, construction could begin in the summer of 2022 and the campus could open in 2023. We’ll be cheering — er, yelling — for success.