Texas A&M International University

By: Melissa Barrientos-Whitfield

Type: General Entry

Published: November 2, 2001

Updated: August 5, 2020

Texas A&M International University opened in Laredo in September 1970. Established as the first exclusively upper-level institution in Texas, it was named Texas A&I University at Laredo, a center under then Texas A&I University in Kingsville. The center offered a bachelor of science in elementary education, a bachelor of science in secondary education and a bachelor of business administration. Representing a new philosophy of higher education in Texas, the school was created primarily to serve regional needs. More than 90 percent of the 286 students enrolled were from Laredo.

In the summer of 1968, a twenty-seven-member delegation of Laredo citizens, led by the brothers and physicians Joaquín and Leonides Cigarroa, had traveled to Austin to ask the Texas Coordinating Board for Higher Education to include third and fourth-year classes at Laredo Junior College. The Coordinating Board denied the request and reasoned that enough students could not be found to warrant an institution of higher education at Laredo.

Joaquín Cigarroa, the first Hispanic on the Coordinating Board, and Leonides Cigarroa, a member of the joint board of Laredo Independent School District and Laredo Junior College, returned to Austin a few weeks later with a petition with more than 8,000 signatures to add an upper-level senior institution to the Coordinating Board’s ten-year plan. The center, which would only accept upperclassmen and graduate students, would give local students the opportunity to pursue their education in Laredo. State Representative Honore Ligarde of Laredo sponsored legislation, and the Senate approved the provision, which was signed by Governor Preston Smith.

In 1969 the university’s first president Billy F. Cowart, who worked from a small carrel in the Harold R. Yeary Library at Laredo Junior College, set out to create the upper-level center. His only assistance came from a work-study student, Mary Vela. The university opened in September 1970 with nineteen faculty members Cowart had recruited from around the country. That same year, a program for students interested in bilingual education was established. Twenty-five students traveled to Kingsville in May 1971 for graduation ceremonies, and nineteen more followed in August. The following year, seventy-five graduates received their degrees in ceremonies in Laredo.

Texas A&I launched a ROTC program in 1971, and a year later the program was singled out for having the highest percentage of female recruits in the country; eight of twenty-two students were women. The program closed in 1976, however. By 1972 several graduate classes were introduced and enrollment increased to 637. That same year, the center purchased 16,000 books and 425 periodicals. Combined with the 45,000 books at the Yeary Library, the library was on its way to becoming one of the largest in South Texas. By 1974 the enrollment had reached 758. As a result of talks between President Cowart and Laredo businessmen, in 1975 the university added a research division, the Institute of International Trade. The institute offered conferences that focused on international trade rules and tariffs in addition to publishing the International Trade Letter, Laredo Economic Index, and Border Business Indicators. It also became the go-to source for various state agencies and private businesses on the devaluation of the Mexican peso. In 1986 the institute established a quarterly journal, The International Trade Journal. The institute also sponsored the new master of business administration degree in international trade. Classes were taught in English and Spanish, and the program attracted students from Taiwan, Malaysia, Ethiopia, Iran, Canada, Nigeria, Liberia, Ghana, Venezuela, Sierra Leone, and Mexico.

In the mid-1970s the university’s reading clinic received recognition for its new approaches to the teaching of bilingual education and work in the analysis of teaching. By January 1975 there were 852 students enrolled at Laredo State University thanks to the addition of graduate degrees in education, business administration, and international trade.

On May 20, 1976, ground was broken for the first building—University Hall—on the Laredo Junior College campus; the hall opened in fall 1979. In an effort to better identify the university’s regional identity, the A&I System Board of Directors changed the name of the school from Texas A&I University at Laredo to Laredo State University in 1977.

By 1980 Laredo State University offered bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice, international trade, business administration, elementary and secondary education, and bilingual education as well as graduate degrees in several fields of education, general business, and international trade. Cowart and his faculty and staff were also responsible for establishing Borderfest, Laredo’s Fourth of July celebration. The festival started in 1980 and attracted tourism to Laredo by emphasizing the heritage of the area.

Manuel Pacheco became the university’s second president in April 1985. That same spring, enrollment passed 1,000 students, but because of budget cuts and increased tuition, enrollment dropped 30 percent by January 1986. In 1987, after various attempts at closing the university by politicians, Governor William Clements signed a bill that assured the independence of the university, and its “center” status was removed. A possible merger with Laredo Junior College was explored in the mid-1980s but was rejected by Laredo Junior College.

After working at the university for eleven years, Leo Sayavedra was appointed the third president of Laredo State University in 1987. Sayavedra expanded undergraduate programs to include degrees in nursing, transportation, finance, management, marketing, economics, tourism, science, and math and graduate degrees in political science, psychology, history, English, Spanish, sociology, computer science, accounting, and law enforcement administration.

In the fall of 1989 the Texas Center for Border Economic and Enterprise Development was established to provide leadership and support to Texas border communities in their economic development efforts, including activities in the areas of business development, education, health care, public administration, and the environment.

In September 1989 the university became a member of the Texas A&M University System, and in 1993 the name was changed to Texas A&M International University. Enrollment at the time was 1,569 students, and the university had fifty faculty members.

In 1995 a much publicized but unsuccessful attempt was made to transfer TAMIU to the University of Texas System. The former upper-level center became a four-year university in September 1995, which allowed the university to develop joint degree programs with Mexican and Canadian institutions of higher education. The fall of 1995 also saw the beginning of construction of a new campus on 300 acres in northeast Laredo that was donated by longtime university supporters Radcliffe and Sue Killam.

J. Charles Jennett came from Clemson University to become the fourth president of the University in 1996. Enrollment that fall stood at 2,682. In August 1997 the university announced the A. R. Sanchez, Sr. Distinguished Lecture Series. Funded by A. R. Sanchez, Jr., the series honors the late A. R. Sanchez, Sr., a successful entrepreneur in the oil and gas industry and founder of International Bancshares Corporation. To date, the series features lectures by nationally-known scholars and distinguished researchers.

Ray Keck III, a professor of Spanish at the university and a scholar from Princeton, succeeded Jennett as president in 2001. Enrollment in the spring of that year reached 2,969, with a faculty of 193. The Sue and Radcliffe Killam Library, which opened in 1995, held more than 145,000 volumes. Enrollment topped 5,000 students in fall 2007 and two years later increased to 6,419 students. By 2011 enrollment reached 7,000 students.

As of 2016 the campus was home to four colleges: the College of Arts and Sciences; A. R. Sanchez, Jr. School of Business; the College of Education; and the College of Nursing and Health Sciences. There are also fifteen buildings on campus and soccer, softball and baseball fields. The university became a member of NCAA Division II in 2008.

In 2006 the university developed an Early College High School with Laredo Independent School District and in 2015 with Freer Independent School District. In 2014 the university launched the Texas Academy of International and STEM Studies. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The high school is a university-level academy that focuses on science, technology, engineering, math, and international studies.

With more than 90 percent of students identifying as Hispanic, in 2015 TAMIU was named Number 1 in the nation in U.S. News & World Report’s “Top 10 Colleges with the Highest Hispanic Enrollment.”

Texas A&M International University (http://www.tamiu.edu/general.shtml), accessed August 23, 2016. Dr. Jerry Thompson, Challenge and Triumph: The First 20 Years of Laredo State University (Laredo: Laredo State University, 1990). 

  • Education
  • Public Four-Year Colleges and Universities
  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Melissa Barrientos-Whitfield, “Texas A&M International University,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/texas-a-m-international-university.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 2, 2001
August 5, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: