After years of advocacy from the Texas Tech University System, the Legislature has earmarked more than $17 million for the West Texas institution to establish a veterinary medicine school, the second of its kind in the state.
The system also received $20 million to open a dental school in El Paso.
“This has been — for us — a long, long road. But it’s been very much worth the effort,” Texas Tech University System Chancellor Tedd Mitchell said at a press conference Tuesday.
He expressed gratitude to state leaders and lawmakers for Tech’s “absolutely historic legislative session,” and suggested both schools would meet critical regional needs.
"We think that the state's made a tremendous investment into not only our region and not only in higher education, but a huge investment in the future of Texas overall," said Mitchell, who is also president of the Tech System's health sciences center.
Funding for the Amarillo vet school, which was part of the budget signed into law Saturday by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, has long been a source of strife between Tech and the Texas A&M University System.
Currently, A&M has a monopoly on training future veterinarians in the state, and advocates of its program have said funding Tech’s will unnecessarily drain limited state resources. Backers of Tech’s initiative have contended that A&M’s program, which has received national recognition, does not train enough large-animal vets to meet the demand in rural areas.
Tech still needs approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and from a third-party accreditor for its academic program. The institution hopes to enroll its first class in 2021.
“The school will address the hundreds of students who are leaving the state of Texas for a more costly education, then coming back to practice in their home state with upwards of $250,000 in debt due to out-of-state tuition,” a group of 10 area lawmakers, including Republican state Sens. Charles Perry and Kel Seliger and state Rep. John Frullo, said in a statement last month.
Former Tech chancellors Robert Duncan and Kent Hance advocated for vet school funding throughout the 2019 legislative session. Duncan, a former state lawmaker, unexpectedly retired from Tech last August, and sources familiar with the events have partly attributed his departure to conflicts over the vet program. At the time, the disagreement was rooted in diverging opinions about budgets and the prioritization of other system initiatives, like the proposed dental school in El Paso.
In 2016, Tech regents tapped the brakes on the vet program plans. But lawmakers, urged by the West Texas delegation, set aside $4.2 million in 2017 for Tech to study how feasible it would be to build the school. Institution officials have estimated it will cost $90 million for facilities and have raised private donations to cover those costs.
Language in the state budget says the $17 million will let Tech “initiate curriculum design and development,” begin recruiting faculty and kickstart the accreditation process.
Disclosure: The Texas Tech University System, the Texas A&M University System and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.