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By one measure, earning a degree at the Texas State University is one of the smartest moves in the Lone Star State.

In its eighth annual ranking of colleges and university that give students the best return on their educational investment, personal finance website SmartAsset places Texas State at No. 10 in Texas.

Houston's Rice University earned the No. 1 spot in Texas and No. 10 in the U.S., making it the only Texas school to break into the national top 10.

To determine the best-value colleges and universities in each state, SmartAsset crunched data in these categories: scholarships and grants, starting salary for new graduates, tuition, living costs, and retention rate.

Regarding tuition ($10,280) and student living costs ($12,850), Texas State's numbers are in the lower range among the top 10 Texas schools on the list, but so are the average amount of scholarships and grants ($7,757), average starting salary ($54,700), and retention rate (77 percent).

Texas State's admissions website estimates tuition, fees, on-campus room and board, books, and personal expenses for the 2022-23 academic year to be around $27,720. That figure, which excludes financial aid, applies to a full-time, degree-seeking student (and Texas resident) living on campus.

"At Texas State, you can immerse yourself in learning experiences that prepare you to launch a career as an entrepreneur, to make life-changing discoveries in science and technology, or to flourish creatively and make your mark as an artist," reads a statement on the school's admissions website.

Other schools on SmartAsset’s list of the biggest-bang-for-your-buck schools in Texas are:

  • Rice University in Houston, No. 1
  • University of Texas at Austin, No. 2
  • University of Texas at Dallas, No. 3
  • Prairie View A&M University, No. 4
  • University of Houston, No. 5
  • Texas A&M University-College Station, No. 6
  • Texas Tech University in Lubbock, No. 7
  • LeTourneau University in Longview, No. 8
  • University of North Texas in Denton, No. 9
  • Texas State University in San Marcos, No. 10

Historic San Antonio mansion will transform into new restaurant and hotel destination

in the house

A San Antonio real estate firm co-founded by multimillionaire entrepreneur Graham Weston is converting a historic landmark on the campus of San Antonio College into a restaurant, hotel, and entertainment space.

The firm, Weston Urban, is paying a little over $2 million for the Koehler House. Trustees of the Alamo Colleges District decided last year to sell the property, at 310 W. Ashby Pl. in the Tobin Hill neighborhood, in an effort to save money on renovations. The district’s trustees approved Weston Urban’s bid February 22.

The Koehler property, formally known as the Koehler Cultural Center, once housed San Antonio College’s ceramics, art metals, and jewelry design studios. The three-story, white-limestone mansion, built in 1901, also has served as a conference and meeting venue. The 12,655-square-foot mansion sits on a nearly 2-acre site.

The property’s original owner was Otto Koehler, co-founder and head honcho of what eventually would come to be known as the Pearl Brewery. Following Koehler’s shooting death in 1914, his widow, Emma Koehler, took over the property. After her death in 1943, Otto A. Koehler, son of the senior Otto’s twin brother, and wife Marcia assumed ownership of the estate.

The junior Otto Koehler died in 1969. Two years later, the estate was deeded to the college district for use as the Koehler Cultural Center.

It’s unclear preciously what Weston Urban envisions doing with the Koehler House. Documents from the San Antonio Colleges District indicate the property will become a restaurant, hotel, and entertainment space. Beyond that, details are scare.

Launched in 2012, Weston Urban now owns more than 1 million square feet of commercial and retail space in San Antonio. Its highest-profile project is downtown San Antonio’s Frost Tower office high-rise.

Weston is co-founder, former chairman, and former CEO of Windcrest-based Rackspace, a provider of cloud computing services. He exited the business in 2016, when it was sold to private equity firm Apollo Global Management for $4.3 billion. In the Apollo deal, Rackspace went from being a publicly held company to a privately held company. Two years ago, it returned to being a publicly held company.

Courtesy/UTSA

UTSA graduates to the head of the class with new Tier One designation

academic upgrade

The University of Texas at San Antonio has joined an elite class of colleges and universities.

UTSA recently was designated a Tier One school. Under the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education program, Tier One is the highest possible level for academic and research excellence.

“The designation places UTSA among the nation’s top public and private research universities, amplifying its statewide and national exposure to attract and recruit world-class faculty and top students,” the university says in a news release.

Other Tier One schools in Texas are Baylor University, Rice University, Texas Tech University, the University of Houston, the University of North Texas, and the UT campuses in Austin, Arlington, Dallas, and El Paso.

UTSA President Taylor Eighmy says San Antonio and the rest of Texas “deserve Tier One educational and research institutions to advance economic mobility and robust economic development driven by a knowledge economy.”

To achieve Tier One status, UTSA increased annual spending on research, expanded its pipeline of doctoral students, and sought national attention for its researchers.

UTSA is now one of about 20 U.S. universities that hold both Tier One designation and official status as schools serving Hispanic students.

“Tier One designation improves the degree value, increases choices for our students aiming to pursue graduate study at other now-peer university programs, creates stronger professional affiliations for our faculty, and elevates our stature in the national research community,” says Kimberly Andrews Espy, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at UTSA. “Simultaneously, the designation advances San Antonio’s knowledge pipeline by attracting additional talented faculty, who in turn further our local workforce.”

In addition, Tier One status helps encourage partnerships with local organizations like UT Health San Antonio, the Southwest Research Institute, the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, Brooke Army Medical Center, and Joint Base San Antonio.

“In the next decade, UTSA will become a national model for student success, a great public research university, and an exemplar for strategic growth and innovative excellence,” Eighmy says. “The traction we’re seeing on multiple fronts — in athletics, fundraising, enrollment, academic innovation, and research — position us to serve as an exemplar for the future of higher education in the United States.”

Esteemed San Antonio university graduates to higher level in higher education

Academic achievement

San Antonio’s Trinity University has given it the old college try, and it’s aced a new classification that could elevate the school’s reputation on a national level.

The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education has approved Trinity’s request to be reclassified as a baccalaureate arts and sciences institution. This will result in Trinity being shifted to the National Liberal Arts category in the closely watched U.S. News & World Report rankings, beginning with the fall 2022 report. Trinity says the new classification better reflects the university’s mission and sets it up for greater national recognition.

“Trinity has enjoyed an exceptional reputation for academic excellence, interdisciplinarity, and a commitment to the liberal arts for more than 150 years. We have earned a reputation as the premier liberal arts university in the Southwest,” Danny Anderson, president of Trinity, says in a news release.

“Now, we are positioned to become a highly ranked and nationally recognized institution. While this will require significant effort and stewardship over multiple years, ultimately this move helps us attract and retain outstanding students, faculty, and staff. Most important, the investments we will make to achieve such standing positively impact student success and provide greater value for our alumni.”

Founded in 1869 by Cumberland Presbyterians, Trinity has an enrollment of about 2,500. The school’s 43-acre campus is west of State Highway 281, between East Hildebrand Avenue and East Mulberry Avenue.

Photo by Elizabeth James

Whataburger cooks up $500,000 scholarship fund for minority students

What an opportunity!

Now, in addition to feeding their faces with some of Texas’ best burgers and fries, some worthy college students will be able to feed their dreams, thanks to beloved San Antonio-based chain Whataburger.

The fast-growing and long-lasting burger chain, which features a beefy dedication to the communities where it does business, has just rolled out a scholarship program that will initially aid minority students.

The Whataburger Feeding Student Success Scholarship initiative — part of the chain’s signature community program, Feeding Student Success, which aims to remove obstacles to success for students — includes a $500,000 commitment to help fund students’ college, university, and nonprofit vocational school endeavors.

Whataburger says 100 students in cities where its restaurants are located will be awarded a non-renewable amount of $5,000 in scholarship funds that can be used for tuition, fees, books, supplies, and housing for the 2022-2023 academic year.

Additionally, as part of a recent $1 million commitment Whataburger made to support Black and other minority students, it will prioritize these students in its first round of scholarship awards.

Students interested in participating in the scholarship program can apply between now and February 28, 2022, and can get more info about eligibility requirements and the application process on Whataburger’s Community Support page through its website.

San Antonio university receives $1 million to foster Latino students in STEM

Innovation inspiration

Private liberal arts institution St. Mary’s University is aiming to bridge the digital divide for Latino students with its newest grant from the National Science Foundation.

San Antonio’s oldest Catholic university has been awarded nearly $1 million from the foundation with the goal of increasing the number of Latino students who obtain bachelor’s degrees in fields associated with STEM, or science, technology, engineering, and math.

The $999,152 grant is part of the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program, and the funding will assist students entering St. Mary’s as first-time freshmen as well as those who transfer to St. Mary’s from Northwest Vista College on the Far West Side.

The funding is surely considered a godsend for the school, which notes that research shows Latino students are underrepresented in the STEM workforce, a situation worsened by a dearth of Latino students earning four-year degrees in these majors.

In fact, according to a Pew Research Center report published in April, only 8 percent of all STEM workers are Latino, which St. Mary’s says contributes to a restricted range of occupations available to these students, circumstances that can also reduce their social mobility.

“The gap in STEM workforce representation is especially large for Hispanic adults. Hispanic workers make up 17 percent of total employment across all occupations, but just 8 percent of all STEM workers,” the Pew Research Center reports. “Black and Hispanic adults are underrepresented among STEM college graduates compared with their share in the population, and a smaller share are earning degrees in a STEM field than in other degree programs.”

The St. Mary’s grant will help fund a project called FUERTE, or Fostering Undergraduate Education, Retention, and Transfer Environments, and aims to meet several goals, including:

  • Supporting the transfer of students from a two-year to a four-year institution by creating a seamless transfer pathway.
  • Creating culturally responsive classroom environments and a system of student-support services.
  • Facilitating student progression through STEM majors.
  • Building competency in STEM.

“The main goal is to understand what really drives Latino students to complete a major in STEM — Is it because they get a research experience, because they get internships, because they have a culturally responsive campus where they can see themselves doing STEM in the future, because good course transferability exists between institutions? — to understand what helps with the persistence of Latino students,” says associate professor of mechanical engineering Juan Ocampo, principal investigator for the grant.

He says during the next three years, the program will reach 80 students studying physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, or engineering.

As part of the FUERTE project, associate professor of psychology Rick Sperling, the co-principal investigator of the grant, will gather data from students, and learn what might change after they’re exposed to, for instance, culturally responsive classroom environments or participate in summer internships or gain research experience. The investigators will also measure student retention and graduation rates.

Additionally, Sperling is hoping to create a “culture of evaluation,” across the different schools within St. Mary’s that delves into what is happening with students beyond the standard GPA, retention, and graduation data “to look at it ecologically for the campus to see how the institution is affected by bringing in grants of this magnitude.”

“At the end, we want to see our students succeed,” Ocampo says. “We want to see what we need to change or what we need to keep in order to see Latino students succeed in STEM.”

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

San Antonio Missions hit home run with new owners, plus more top stories

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. Here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. San Antonio's minor league baseball team scores new owners, including Texas sports legends. San Antonio's minor league baseball team is back to being locally owned — by some big names.

2. H-E-B unveils new line of merchandise for super fans, available exclusively at this store. Kerrville was chosen to launch the company's new line of H-E-B-branded merchandise, in celebration of its 117th anniversary and in honor of its first store.

3. San Antonio market continues to see prices going up and sales going down. San Antonio home sales dropped 19 percent from October 2021.

4. San Antonio Rodeo wrangles even more musical acts for star-studded 2023. Turnpike Troubadours joined the already impressive lineup for the 2023 San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.

5. San Antonio children's theater adapts timeless children's book for the holidays. Magik Theatre celebrates The Velveteen Rabbit as a Christmas story, with inclusive special performances.

Steven Spielberg opens up personal history in The Fabelmans

Movie Review

For over 40 years, director Steven Spielberg has been delivering some of the most popular blockbuster movies of all time as well as a bevy of Oscar-quality dramas, a combination that’s unique to him. For his latest, The Fabelmans, he’s decided to go more personal than ever, telling a thinly-veiled version of his own childhood.

Sammy (played mostly by Gabriel LaBelle) is one of four children – and the only son – of Mitzi (Michelle Williams), a concert pianist, and Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano), a computer engineer. From an early age, Sammy is enthralled by the art of filmmaking, first remaking a train crash sequence from The Greatest Show on Earth, and gradually moving on to more adventurous stories.

Burt’s advancing career, which moves the family from New Jersey to Arizona to California, causes stress for various members of the family, most notably Sammy and Mitzi. Sammy must deal with anti-Semitic bullies, while Mitzi falls deeper into a mental health crisis. Sammy’s movies continually offer a respite for the family, though, giving him a creative outlet and the rest of them a chance to forget their troubles for a while.

Written by Spielberg – his first writing effort since 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence – and Tony Kushner, the film is heavy on emotions but presented in a way that those feelings don’t always translate. Spielberg is no stranger to depicting fraught family situations in his long career, but in showing ones from his own family, it feels like he pulled back, not wanting the scenes to be overwrought or schmaltzy.

The result is a story that isn’t as universal as some of his other films. As the film is told from Sammy’s perspective, it’s easy to get caught up in his pursuits and various discoveries as he gets older. The mindsets of the rest of the family are less clear, even though his parents and sisters are ever-present. Mitzi’s state of mind is a concern from the start, but it’s not always treated as such by other important characters.

Just as Sammy’s movies are an escape for his family, so too are they some of the best parts of the film. Sammy figuring out the process and secrets of filmmaking is informative and often thrilling, especially if you’re a cinephile. Spielberg has been considered a master for so long that watching him revisit the days when he was learning as he went is catnip for movie lovers.

In addition to being a dead ringer for a teenage Spielberg, LaBelle is a fantastic actor. It’s no easy feat to carry a movie on your shoulders, and LaBelle makes the assignment look easy. Williams’ performance will likely be more polarizing; she employs a very mannered speech pattern that works in some situations, but not all. The film also includes memorable short appearances by Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch, and David Lynch.

Spielberg has provided the moviegoing public with such pleasure over the years that he deserves to have a movie that’s mostly for him. The initial viewing of The Fabelmans left this critic wanting, but perhaps it will gain more traction on a second screening.

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The Fabelmans is now playing in theaters.

Photo by Merie Weismuller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Gabriel LaBelle in The Fabelmans

New self-guided tour showcases iconic Fort Worth Stockyards' many Hollywood ties

Tinseltown in Cowtown

A new self-guided tour showcasing the Fort Worth Stockyards’ many star-studded appearances in cinema throughout the years recently debuted in time for the 16th annual Lone Star Film Festival, which took place earlier this month in the Stockyards for the first time.

Called Stars of the Stockyards, the eight-stop, go-at-your-own pace walking tour guides folks to famous film sites where celebrities have stepped foot in front of Hollywood cameras. Visitors to the Stockyards can access the PDF tour map on their smart phones via QR codes (no app required) posted throughout the district, namely at hotels and tour kiosks.

"The Stockyards is a historic and celebrated destination for many reasons, but one that may be lesser known is its popularity as a filming location for some of our favorite movies and TV series," said Ethan Cartwright, VP of marketing for Stockyards Heritage Development Co.

The tour and corresponding QR codes are a permanent addition to the district, he said.

Stops on the map include the iconic White Elephant Saloon, a hotbed for Hollywood performances including several by legendary actor and martial artist Chuck Norris in the longtime TV series, Walker, Texas Ranger when the watering hole was portrayed as the fictional CD Bar. The White Elephant was also graced by country music superstar Tim McGraw and Academy Award-winning actor Billy Bob Thornton for their appearances in Paramount Plus’ hit series 1883.

Also in 1883 and featured on the tour is Hookers Grill, hidden in the less flashy West side of Exchange Ave. The burger shack transformed into a gambling den in the show called The Texas House of Liquor & Sport. It’s the only building in the Stockyards that preserved the façade constructed by 1883’s production team. During operating hours, customers can order at the outdoor burger window and dine at patio tables within the two-story structure.

Cowtown Coliseum is marked on the map for its appearances in the 1983 film Tough Enough, where actor Dennis Quaid played an amateur boxer. It’s also the home of the final rodeo scene in the 1992 movie Pure Country starring country music legend George Strait.

Billy Bob’s Texas, the Stockyards Hotel, and even unassuming historic cattle pens also make the list on the tour, along with notations for the Texas Trail of Fame, which features more than 240 bronze markers honoring contributors for preserving and perpetuating the Western way of life.

Veteran actors Sam Elliot and Robert Duvall, both stars in the megahit TV series Yellowstone, are among the most recent Texas Trail of Fame inductees.

For more information and to get started on the tour, go here.