Higher Education Deepens Stake in Fort Bend County
All Four Public Institutions Are Expanding, Investing More Than $206 Million In Capital Expenditures
Higher education is increasing its footing in Fort Bend County as institutions strive to meet the needs of the county’s local businesses and growing workforce.
All four public institutions of higher education found in Fort Bend County — the University of Houston, Texas State Technical College, Wharton County Junior College and Houston Community College Southwest — are in the process of expanding, investing more than $206 million in capital expenditures, mostly focused on advanced technology, in the county.
Texas State Technical College (TSTC) opened a new facility to students in August after a year of construction that moved its presence from a shared space with Wharton County Junior College (WCJC) to a 126,000-square-foot building at FM 2218 and State Highway 36 in Rosenberg. It was the largest opening in the college’s history, with 256 students.
“Other locations opened with far fewer students — 40-50 in Red Oak in North Texas and about 20 students in Hutto near Austin,” said TSTC Vice Chancellor Randy Wooten. “We approached this opening differently. Having 256 students enrolled at our start was a big success.”
The first phase of the TSTC expansion was funded through grants by The George Foundation and The Henderson-Wessendorff Foundation, as well as Fort Bend County, the Gulf Coast Medical Foundation, Sprint Waste Services and the cities of Richmond and Rosenberg, for a total of approximately $40 million to purchase 80 acres and construct the first building. A second building on the campus — funded by the state — will open next August.
“The Henderson-Wessendorff Foundation is excited to partner with these entities to bring world-class technical education to Fort Bend County,” said Pat McDonald, the foundation’s president and chief operating officer. “We are confident that TSTC’s track record of results coupled with industry demand for a skilled workforce in our area makes this project a transformational investment for Fort Bend County and the surrounding region.”
Wooten agrees and says he is impressed by the level of community support. “The community came together like none other to jumpstart our expansion,” he said.
The grant to TSTC — the largest ever given by The George Foundation — aligned with a priority set by the foundation’s board of trustees to support career readiness.
“We want residents to have the skillset to earn a living wage,” said Roger Adamson, chief executive officer of The George Foundation. “Our mission is focused on education and career readiness, which also translates into workforce development as a second-order benefit to the business community.”
The George Foundation also has been instrumental in the growth of the University of Houston and Wharton County Junior College in Fort Bend County, as well as the relocation of the Houston Community College campus to Stafford.
“Fort Bend students now have a full menu of options for higher education in our backyard — an opportunity for an associate’s degree or a path to a four-year degree at HCC and Wharton County Junior College, a best-in-class technical college at TSTC and a Tier One university at the University of Houston Sugar Land all located within Fort Bend,” Adamson said. “We think that’s a big deal.”
The George Foundation has awarded $36 million to support higher education in Fort Bend County over the past decade, including scholarships and support for SER-Jobs for Progress workforce development services and CollegeCommunityCareer, which prepares first-generation high school students for admission to and graduation from a four-year university.
In addition to the partnership with TSTC, The Henderson-Wessendorff Foundation also supports education in Fort Bend County through the local school district and nonprofit organizations.
The University of Houston Sugar Land also is expanding in Fort Bend and is now operating at Tier One status. This fall, the University of Houston Sugar Land became an institution of the University of Houston, meaning the Sugar Land facility is part of the main campus. Located at University Boulevard and U.S. Highway 59, the university had previously served as a multi-institutional learning facility supporting several branch campuses of the university. Two years ago, the university’s board of regents decided the Sugar Land campus would become a single-institutional learning center, meaning students graduating from University of Houston Sugar Land would have a University of Houston degree, said Dr. Robert McPherson, interim associate provost.
In addition to the new distinction, the 375-acre campus is expanding with a new 150,000-square-foot building that is expected to break ground in 2017. It will complement the current 57,000-square-foot George Building, opened in 2002, and the 145,000-square-foot Brazos Hall, which debuted in 2009. A university library also is on-site. A student union is proposed for the campus, as well as possible apartments or dormitories, McPherson said. The city has leased 56 acres for a festival site.
“Much of the reason we are able to expand is because of the generous support of The George Foundation, the Parks Foundation, the city and the county,” McPherson said. “You normally don’t see this type of cooperative spirit and support.”
The University of Houston also will be serving north Fort Bend County residents with the construction of a $46 million facility in Katy.
Wharton County Junior College (WCJC) is considering a renovation to the previous TSTC space at its Richmond campus, located at 5333 FM 1640. Renovations to the existing 9,000-square-foot space, along with the addition of a new 4,000-square-foot area, would allow for a new cosmetology program and more space for the campus’s current process technology program. The anticipated cost of this renovation is $1.4 million.
“At WCJC, we are motivated to open new and exciting doors to strong career pathways for students of all ages,” said President Betty McCrohan. “We develop these pathways and program offerings with input from our business and industry partners, and then create the physical space for a high-quality learning environment.”
Long term, an expansion and renovation of the WCJC Richmond campus may include a second educational building or new wing, a new central plant and a student pavilion, followed by renovations to the current two-story, 70,000-square-foot building.
Houston Community College (HCC) is expanding its Stafford campus to include a 57,424-square-foot Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence that will focus on training qualified professionals in high-demand occupations within the manufacturing sector, as well as investing $21 million to open a second facility in Missouri City. The advanced manufacturing center will include programs in manufacturing engineering technology and machining technology, with state-of-the-art industrial technology laboratories, CNC machines and a maker space filled with 3D printers, robotics, mechatronics and machining tools.
“In addition, short-term certificate programs and incumbent upskill worker training will be offered in the areas of electrical, plumbing, welding, pipefitting and industrial maintenance,” said Dr. Madeline Burillo, president of HCC Southwest. “Students will be able to earn both college credentials and industry credentials such as OSHA, National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS) and SolidWorks, among others.”
Designing Programs for Fort Bend
Wooten said requests from local businesses helped shape the course offerings at the new TSTC campus.
“We received many requests and had to pick where there was the most need,” he said. “Some of the courses we offer are in short supply or nonexistent in a 30-mile radius. We also wanted to make sure the jobs were well-salaried.”
The Fort Bend school currently offers seven programs — diesel equipment technology, HVAC technology, precision machining technology, telecommunications convergence technology, welding technology, industrial maintenance technology and cyber security. Wooten said welding is the most popular course, with nearly 100 students enrolled. Cyber security also has drawn a large enrollment.
Houston’s strength as a top manufacturing city — and with Stafford as a hub for much of that industry — prompted the expansion of HCC in Fort Bend County.
“Stafford is one of the cities with the largest concentration of pipe, valve and fitting manufacturing in the United States, and is a strong logistics and distribution region,” Burillo said. “Because of this, Stafford was identified as the ideal location for the programs we will be offering at our Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence.”
The University of Houston also reached out to the community regarding its course make-up. “We asked businesses and industries what kind of graduates they are looking for,” McPherson said.
The new building will primarily be a college of technology, with such programs as digital media, bio technology and industrial management construction. The current facility also houses a nursing program and a college of education, which in the spring will offer a master’s degree program for principals — being developed with the Fort Bend Independent School District — and in the fall a doctorate degree of education.
Houston Community College, TSTC and the University of Houston have various outreach programs in place in high schools and business sectors.
“We want to make our front door more accessible to everyone in Fort Bend,” Wooten said.
McPherson describes the Sugar Land campus as an “outward-facing” institution.
“We are wanting to form public-private partnerships with local businesses such as Fluor — which will have a new campus across the street — and Texas Instruments and others that would allow our faculty and students to do research and work for them at our college of technology,” he said.