Texas universities urge passage of funding bill for campus construction to train more medical students after pandemic

Construction in downtown Austin's warehouse district on May 2, 2017.
Construction in downtown Austin's warehouse district on May 2, 2017.

Texas public university leaders are crossing their fingers that the Legislature will pass a bill this year that would open up billions of dollars of funding for construction of new and existing campus buildings.

Many of the projects named in the bill would add health care education and research infrastructure as the state continues to face a shortage of physicians and nurses amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials say the pandemic has exacerbated the needs for these construction projects that will expand public health education.

House Bill 1530, which would authorize the state to issue $4.3 billion in bonds to fund the infrastructure projects, heads to the Senate for approval after the Texas House passed it last week.

If passed by the Texas Senate and signed into law, it would send more than $150 million collectively for construction of new public health education buildings at Texas A&M University in San Antonio and at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, $88 million for a health professions building at Texas State University in Round Rock and $163 million for a dental school building at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at El Paso, among other projects.

“[Health care workers are] a growing need as our boomers age,” said Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, who sponsored the bill and chairs the House Higher Education Committee. “It's a wonderful career opportunity as the field grows. And we aren’t producing nearly enough of the folks we need in that part of the economy.”

Some of the projects included were carried over from a failed bill from the last legislative session that stalled in a Senate committee. The state has not passed a tuition revenue bond package funding higher education construction since 2015.

For years, higher education leaders grew accustomed to the Legislature passing construction bills for their projects every other session. But the time between the bills passing has widened over the past two decades. Before 2015, the state hadn’t passed a tuition revenue bond bill since 2006.

On the House floor last week, Murphy said the Texas State University System is 1.4 million square feet short of how big it should be, the Texas A&M system is 2.3 million square feet short of space and the UT system has 3 million square feet less than needed to meet the needs of its growing student populations.