In a few short days, students will return to the Fall classrooms at Texas A&M International University. They will begin journeys of self-discovery, self-betterment and, for many, their first time away from home. Some will travel from the far corners of the world, some from just around the corner. Many are taking the biggest step of their lives.
Researchers today tell us that it's crucial that these steps be grounded in a lifelong commitment to self-reinvention to help us to function in a constantly changing world. The smartest way to do that continues to be a life lived long in education. We tend to picture young people at universities, but over 41% of the 15.2 million people enrolled in US colleges and universities are 25 or older; more than 1.6 million are over age 40. At A&M International, our youngest student is 16. Our oldest has been 72. Over 62% are women and 88% minorities.
No matter their age, they are drawn by the opportunity to better themselves. Clearly, there are rewards for those who take these journeys of self-betterment. The US Census Bureau indicates that those holding Bachelor's degrees may earn as much as $40,478 a year, while those with a Masters may earn $63,229 or more.
But then there are rewards that can't be tallied, quantified and spent. The ability to analyze, to think critically and creatively, to help diverse audiences come to consensus, to find that lives lived long before yours can light your daily path...all are the lasting rewards which higher education can bring. That these abilities and skills are highly valued in the global marketplace just seems perfectly fitting.
Here at A&M International, each semester we are honored to bring students into these great halls of learning. We see dreams take flight, careers shaped, hearts opened and minds set free. It's a special honor for our gifted faculty to be part of these students' lives.
As we watch our graduate numbers grow (there are now over 7,400 A&M International graduates around the world), we see the changes they are leading in communities here and abroad. Over 50% are the first in their family to earn a degree. They are the human capital that will empower Texas' and our world's continued prosperity.
This semester, students return to a University that enjoys continued legislative support secured by our local legislators, Sen. Judith Zaffirini and State Representatives Henry Cuellar and Tracy King. In addition to sustained funding for all initiatives, they've helped to provide $2 million to help us develop our new Ph.D. in International Business, the first to signal our University's transformation into a doctoral-granting institution.
This fall students have greater access to higher education with the Legislature's development of HB 713 (Cuellar), the Toward Excellence Access and Success Grant (T.E.X.A.S.) which removes the financial barrier of attending colleges and universities, providing A&M International students with a grant of up to $1,470 per semester. Our 51 undergraduate or graduate degrees are now within everyone's reach.
Students will also benefit from our ongoing $4.5 million library enhancement which will see our collection grow 70%. This enhancement will support new programs including planned bachelors degrees in Art, Music and Dance, and graduate degrees in Environmental Management, International Entrepreneurship, Biology, Math and Nursing.
Students this fall will help break ground for Phase III, the University's ongoing commitment to higher education for South Texas and beyond. At a cost of over $48 million, Phase III will see your campus grow by over 60 percent, adding 260,00 plus square feet.
Students this fall will also see some new faces on campus as we've been successful in attracting 27 new faculty members to our four colleges. Each brings a world of experience, education and relevant research to their new teaching post. We are honored that they choose to share their gifts with our students.
Finally, this Fall students begin a new march into history as A&M International readies to enter its our 30th year of service. We're planning a year-long observation in 2001 and look forward to welcoming you with a series of special events and initiatives.
The journey begins this fall. A world awaits. As always, we welcome your prayers, guidance and partnership.
And we remind you, every journey begins with one step.