HOUSTON — A task force plans to recommend that the University of Texas System develop a work study program in Houston, partnering with companies to provide work experience for students, the advisory group announced Monday.
The program would take place on the more than 300 acres the UT System owns in southwest Houston. But that site won't be home to a new university, members of the system’s Houston Advisory Task Force said Monday. State lawmakers from Houston had expressed concerns that a UT campus in Houston would compete with the University of Houston.
Assembled by UT System Chancellor William McRaven, the 18-member task force spent the past few months exploring new opportunities for the system to collaborate with Houston's academic, medical and business sectors. Task force co-chairs Paul Hobby and Carin Barth — both prominent players in Houston's business scene — made the announcement Monday at UT's MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The task force is expected to deliver its final recommendations to McRaven in December.
“I think there will be a rotation of students here from other institutions who need what Houston has to offer,” Hobby said.
He pointed to Houston’s energy, health care and aerospace sectors as prime areas for students to gain skills while making valuable contributions to the industries. UT hopes to partner with private companies, nonprofits and government entities, he said.
The system bought the land in Houston earlier this year with the vision of using the property as ground zero for new research, collaboration and education opportunities. The site will be a research and study site for the UT System's 14 existing universities and medical schools.
The task force's recommendations for the Houston site currently focus on the work study program and an online course system, Hobby said. But he added, “Eventually, who knows what it will be?”
State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, whose district includes University of Houston, said he'd like more information about the plans.
“The devil’s always in the details on this stuff,” he said. “They need to tell me what they’re going to do with specifics. Because something can sound one way and it actually morphs into another.”
Coleman previously criticized the UT System for buying the property in Houston without consulting local leaders.
“The objective I’ve had is that there not be undue competition in things in which we’ve already invested in,” Coleman said.
Welcome Wilson Sr., chairman of the University of Houston Political Action Committee, said he considers the UT System's purchase an invasion of UH territory and suggested the task force delay its planning until the Legislature meets in January.
"I believe they need to coordinate with the Legislature and the system of higher education," he said. "Every university cannot decide what it's going to do on its own."
Hobby argued there should be no concerns about competition, as Houston is an underdeveloped intellectual hub.
“Houston is dramatically underpopulated when it comes to college students,” he said. “There’s no way to say we have enough intellectual infrastructure in Houston. That’s just not a statistically defendable position."
The goal of the work study program, Hobby said, is to reduce the mismatch of skills between education and workforce while making college more affordable. Hobby pointed to a similar program at Georgia Tech as a prime example of UT’s aspirations.
Companies such as Delta Air Lines and Coca Cola partner with Georgia Tech because they both have something to offer the other, he said.
“This wasn’t philanthropy,” Hobby said.
The goal for UT’s work study program is similar, he said. “We have to inspire for-profit and nonprofit companies," he said. "We want to put a plan out there that is so compelling that both private and public sector sources will be eager to fund it.”
The task force has not yet finalized any collaborations with companies.
Online learning tools will be incorporated into students’ experiences, Hobby said.
Disclosure: The University of Houston, MD Anderson Cancer Center, the University of Texas System and Welcome Wilson Sr. have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.
* Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said the University of Texas System plans to develop a work study program in Houston. The Houston Advisory Task Force plans to recommend a work study program to the UT System.