By Derek Price
Bonham Street Association
Texas A&M University-Commerce is experiencing record enrollment and has a healthy relationship with the City of Commerce.
That’s the message Dr. Dan Jones, the university’s president, delivered to a meeting of the Bonham Street Association last week. Jones talked at length with the historic preservation group about how dramatically the university has transformed since the 1970s.
“I’m frequently asked the question, ‘What’s changed?’ The enrollment was very high back then,” Jones said. “We have more students overall now, but many of our students are either commuter students or online students. The number actually living here is probably less than it was 40 years ago.”
He said the percentage of online courses delivered by A&M-Commerce is a point of pride — making it one of the largest providers of online college courses in Texas — but the heavily online student population “doesn’t necessarily contribute to a vibrant campus life.”
With residences under construction and more improvements coming to the university soon, that could quickly change.
“There are around 1,900 students living on campus. Our goal within the next five years or so is to get to 3,000 students living on campus,” Jones said, adding that the additional on-campus students could provide a boost to Commerce’s local economy.
Another change since the 1970s is the number of university faculty members who choose to live in Commerce. Forty years ago, most professors chose to live in the city, but today the majority commute from other cities such as Rockwall, Jones said. The local public schools play a part in that decision.
“Especially with younger faculty, they want to be part of a big 5A school,” Jones said. “Commerce has had some ups and downs with the academic rankings of the schools. When you are recruiting faculty, if there’s an exemplary or recognized district within driving distance, that’s where they’re going to go.”
Jones said several of the university’s recent hires in the athletic department plan to live in Commerce, including the new athletic director, Ryan Ivey.
“Once we get enough of them here, they’ll form a community and start encouraging their peers to live here. But it’s a process that’s going to take some time,” Jones said.
Jones emphasized the shared goals of the university and the City of Commerce and the partnerships the two organizations have formed in the past.
“Obviously, the university has a huge stake in the quality of life of the community and the amenities and services offered here in the city,” he said.
Even though the university has its own separate water treatment plant, it buys some water from the City of Commerce to help the city’s finances.
“We don’t really need the water, but Commerce needs the revenue,” he said.
The street projects currently under way near the college campus are being done as a partnership between the city and the university, along with the hook-and-ladder fire truck that was purchased several years ago in a joint arrangement.
“Most of you probably know that Commerce High School sits on land that is owned by the university. It’s a 99-year lease, I think for $1 a year,” Jones said. “The hotel and Lone Star Eatery are both ground leases from the university. Walmart actually purchased the land from the university to develop their store.”
“Those are the kinds of opportunities we’re always looking for. The best thing we can do is continue to grow and continue to look for partnerships that can improve the quality of life,” he said.