The 84th Texas Legislative Session was transformative for UH Sugar Land, which received $54 million in capital construction bonds for a new classroom building as well as the transfer of a deed to 16 acres of land at the front door of the campus — stretching from the Interstate 69 frontage road to the campus entrance on University Boulevard.

“If UH is going to continue to meet the higher education needs of the Houston area, we need to be building where people live,” said Provost Paula Myrick Short, UH senior vice president for academic affairs. “There is tremendous growth in Fort Bend County. We are grateful for the incredible support of the legislature, which will help further develop this campus and expand higher education opportunities in the region.”

UH Sugar Land recently transitioned from a UH System (UHS) institution to a University of Houston campus. The UH System flagship institution will become the exclusive provider of baccalaureate and graduate programs at the Sugar Land campus. The nursing program transitioned to the UH School of Nursing this fall, having previously operated as a UH-Victoria program, and additional programs are on the way. A large portion of the UH College of Technology will occupy the new 150,000-sq.-ft. building, to be funded with the capital construction bonds. It is expected to open during the 2018-19 academic year. The C.T. Bauer College of Business and College of Education are also slated to offer programs there in the next two to five years.

The evolution of UH Sugar Land spans 20 years, beginning with the enrollment of 100 students in a UH System partnership with Wharton County Junior College in 1995, which would eventually lay the groundwork for what has become UH Sugar Land — now an approximately 266-acre campus with three buildings, 250,000-sq.-ft. of academic program support space, approximately 200 faculty and staff and just under 5,000 students. An additional 2,600 students are projected to attend classes at the campus in the next five years.

“Everything about UH Sugar Land and its growth can be attributed to years of grassroots-level support and partnerships along the way,” said Richard Phillips, UH System associate vice chancellor for system initiatives.

In 1998, a 250-acre parcel of land was transferred from the Texas Department of Transportation to the UH System to build the campus. It was followed by more than 15 years of private giving and public support, which included major allocations and gifts by the UH System, the city of Sugar Land, the George Foundation, state lawmakers, community-based capital campaigns and Fort Bend County. A long-term lease with Wharton County Junior College, and partnerships with local industry and the Greater Fort Bend Economic Development Council have also been instrumental in the growth of the institution.

“We have been in a partnership to expand UH’s presence in Sugar Land for decades. The $54 million allocation by the state is a watershed moment. It is critical in terms of seeing the expansion we’ve been working towards realized,” said Jeff Wiley, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Bend Economic Development Council.

“This provides a significant step forward in the delivery of higher education expansion in the Greater Houston market.”

Wiley says the next steps will be raising private funds for operational support and expanding curriculum and workforce training, which is important in attracting new businesses to the area. He is a member of the UH Sugar Land Advisory Council, a six-person board representative of the community, established by UHS Chancellor and UH President Renu Khator in 2010. The council makes recommendations on how the campus could best be developed and programmed to meet local education and industry needs.

“We don’t expect to be known for everything, but we want to be known for something at UH Sugar Land. Nursing, allied health, technology and innovation are pretty good stepping stones to an identity,” said Wiley.

Sugar Land’s City Hall, located in eastern Fort Bend County, is approximately 20 miles southwest of downtown Houston. Photo courtesy of City of Sugar Land.

As for where UH Sugar Land goes from here, you might say the outlook is pretty sweet. The city of Sugar Land has leased 52-acres of campus to construct festival grounds, which will benefit faculty, staff and students, as well as enhance infrastructure. UH Sugar Land will continue to seek new partnerships with the largest industries and employers in the region, such as Fluor, Schlumberger and Texas Instruments. While no construction is planned on the recently acquired 16-acres of land transferred from the Texas Department of Transportation, Phillips said having the land is a vital part of developing a long-term master plan for the campus. In addition, nearby development will bring even more amenities to the vicinity of campus.

“Timing is perfect. We have $30 million in new parks and hike and bike trails, and a $70+ million performing arts center being developed in the immediate area of campus, not to mention mixed use commercial, residential and retail options adjacent and in close proximity,” said Sugar Land Mayor James Thompson. “Becoming a campus of Tier One University of Houston provides the accountability needed to execute a plan, and the new facility will provide the capacity and opportunity to realize it. I’m excited to see what’s in store for UH Sugar Land; the best is yet to come.”