Hill Country University gets a Home

by TIM SAMPSON, KERRVILLE DAILY TIMES

August 19, 2009

After educating students for years in borrowed classrooms, Hill Country University Center finally is getting its own facility.

Last month, the center, which aggregates higher education services from a number of different institutions, broke ground on a permanent facility in Fredericksburg. On Saturday, they are welcoming Hill Country residents to the construction site to see the progress for themselves.

"For years, we've been operating out of a number of different buildings provided by our educational partners, but this is our first instructional facility," said executive director Jimmy Sparks.

The 24,000-square-foot building, located on U.S. 290, next to Fort Martin Scott in Fredericksburg, will house classrooms, science and computer labs, lecture halls, an auditorium and a student lounge. The project is expected to be finished in February.

Sparks predicts a spike in enrollment, as high as 38 percent, upon the project's completion. Hill Country University Center enrolls 700 students every year and, since 1992, nearly 8,000 have attended classes.

Saturday's preview will feature a tour from Sparks and other officials who will provide architectural renderings of what the project will look like when completed. The event also will feature an appearance from Texas Tech University's Masked Rider from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Texas Tech is an educational partner with the Hill Country University Center.

The new facility is critical to Hill Country University Center's founding goal of providing higher education to those who might otherwise be barred from pursuing a post-secondary degree by geographical or financial barriers, Sparks said.

"We're really the only public higher education opportunity in the Hill Country," Sparks said.

Building from courses offered by Austin Community College, in the early 1990s Hill Country University Center started working with other four-year universities to begin offering degrees in teaching, education, nursing and business.

"Texas Tech really saw the opportunity to expand itself beyond the far West Texas region, toward the I-35 corridor, and provide education in a region where that demand was not being met," said James Morris, director of off-campus academic affairs for Texas Tech.

Morris said there are several institutions like Hill County University Center throughout Texas, bringing together the collective services of several different post-secondary institutions. But he said this one is different because it serves a more rural area.

"There is a dire need for associate and baccalaureate degree opportunities throughout Texas, but not everyone can relocate for them," he said. "So it's our job to help bring those opportunities to them."

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