Ofelia Garcia Hunter, Jim Wells County Correspondent

The Tri-County Consortium has adjusted its focus to look into Multiple Institutions Teaching Centers (MITC) as a way to recruit medical field students, but also bring other programs for teachers to the Alice area.

"It's moving forward and it's going to be very strong with Duval, Jim Wells and Brooks counties," U.S. Congressman Ruben Hinojosa said. "To have a trained workforce, you have to have a community college and professors. As a congressman, my focus is to bring federal investments into our area for our public schools and higher education to provide training and re-training for unemployment and underemployment."

Hinojosa told the group that Alice has a problem with underemployment, not unemployment.

In underemployment, he said, individuals are working, but making under $20,000, which puts them under the poverty line.

The group met with Hinojosa Friday to brainstorm and apply for their non-profit status.

Over the last two years, the group was initially researching to open a nursing school in Alice in partnership with Coastal Bend College.

Last year, CBC officials said they had to pull out as a support entity for the group.

This week, CBC announced their plan to increase their LVN enrollments, including 21 openings in Alice, another 21 in Kingsville and with 18 slots in Beeville. That would filter into their Registered Nurses program to allow more individuals to go through the program.

With that commitment from CBC, the Tri-County Consortium will be moving in another direction, still concentrating in the allied health field, but also by bringing other programs to Alice, such as teaching courses.

Now that CBC has increased its enrollment for the nursing program, the group said they are satisfied with that, but will continue to move toward bringing higher education to Alice.

"That's exactly what we wanted, we've accomplished that phase and we are moving and adding to that," said James Bradford, with the committee. "We are moving to the Multiple Institutions Teaching Centers, that's our next phase."

The Tri-County Consortium includes representatives from Jim Wells, Brooks and Duval counties. The group's focus is to model an MITC program in Round Rock and the North Austin community.

The history of MITC is the result of communities such as Round Rock wanting assistance in meeting the workforce and higher-education needs of the citizens of Round Rock and Williamson County. The six initial institutions involved in the project included Austin Community College (ACC); Concordia University, Austin (CUA); St. Edward's University (SEU); Southwest Texas State University (SWT); Temple CollegeŚTaylor Center (TCTC); and Texas State Technical CollegeŚWaco (TSTC). Together, representatives from industry, the Round Rock Independent School District and the community conducted a number of assessments to determine the educational needs of the area. The same group also determined the best sites for offering programs. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board officially approved the MITC in Spring 1998.

The group is also researching grant money from other agencies to fund land and hopefully a building.

"We are currently seeking land for a building," Bradford said.