Mayor Betsy Price at the announcement of the Texas A&M system’s new Tarleton State University campus in Fort Worth. Bob Booth Special to the Star-Telegram
Mayor Betsy Price at the announcement of the Texas A&M system’s new Tarleton State University campus in Fort Worth. Bob Booth Special to the Star-Telegram

Bud Kennedy

Should Fort Worth become a city of cowboys, culture — and colleges?

By Bud Kennedy

bud@star-telegram.com

July 01, 2017 5:07 PM

We talk a lot about what Fort Worth needs, particularly with XTO Energy leaving four downtown towers empty.

But we don’t say enough about colleges or higher education, or how more and stronger universities can drive innovation and success back to Fort Worth.

We’re on the verge of a big step forward. A new medical school offering M.D. degrees is expected to open in 2019 in a partnership between TCU and the successful University of North Texas medical school.

But think how many young people you know who went away to college.

Now think how many never moved back.

Fort Worth and Tarrant County continue to lose students and creative talent to Austin, College Station and beyond.

Partly, that’s because Fort Worth itself has never had a big state university. But that’s also because we don’t talk up the universities we have.

“We sell the Western culture and heritage, and that’s a very authentic message,” said Bill Burton of Hillwood Properties. He spoke at a conference recently about marketing Fort Worth’s location in a region known for computers and technology.

Fort Worth is going to be just fine. XTO will be a blip in the past.

President Dominic Dottavio of Tarleton State University, opening a new campus in Fort Worth

“Businesses want to know about education here, and we’ve got some assets we haven’t packaged and talked about.”

He mentioned mega-university UT Arlington with its highly ranked engineering program, along with TCU, UNT and Tarrant County College.

“You’re talking 160,000 students with some great technical capabilities,” he said.

“We need to tell the story of higher education. Our downtown is as cool as anywhere in the country. Then you add on the shops and developments along the [Trinity] River. People like to live here.”

Boston is physically smaller than Arlington. But it has 57 universities.

The Texas A&M System’s Tarleton State will open a university in 2019 on Chisholm Trail Parkway at Old Granbury Road.

Many American cities promote higher education as a major industry itself, not as a training ground.

Before the TCU and UNT medical school opens, Texas A&M will open a new, 80-acre undergraduate university in southwest Fort Worth affiliated with A&M’s Tarleton State University campus in Stephenville.

“The potential for higher education in Fort Worth is unlimited,” said Tarleton’s president, Dominic Dottavio.

About 2,500 Tarrant County students go to Tarleton now. The Fort Worth university will accept 2,000 and be full when it opens, he said.

“Fort Worth is making the right investments in quality of life,” Dottavio said.

“Healthcare, education, the river — those are major attractions. It’s a matter of continuing to tell that story. … Fort Worth is going to be just fine. XTO will be a blip in the past.”

Cowtown can also be a college town.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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