The University of North Texas at Dallas is opening its doors Thursday with something it has never had -- a freshman class.
Officials expect to welcome about 100 first-year college students to the school in south Dallas, which is the city's first public university.
Since 2000, UNT-Dallas, has been a branch campus of the Denton-based University of North Texas. It offered only junior and senior-level classes with some master's degree courses.
In May 2009, it became one of three university system centers the state approved for expansion into full-fledged, independent universities. The other two, Texas A&M University-Central Texas in Killeen and Texas A&M University-San Antonio, offer only upper level courses at this point.
A bill Gov. Rick Perry signed last year allowed all three schools to issue tuition revenue bonds to pay for new facilities.
"Dallas has been the only major city in America without a public, four-year university to call its own. Now, we have founded something that all of the citizens of Dallas and the North Texas region can be proud of," said university President John Ellis Price.
On Thursday, UNT-Dallas is hosting a ribbon cutting on its second building, a three-story, 103,000-square-foot structure. The $41.8 million building boasts classrooms, science labs, an expanded library, food court and faculty and staff offices, including a police institute that will serve as a national research site for urban law enforcement.
"It's truly historic," said state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas and a longtime proponent of the college and its future law school. "We're going to have a quality institution of higher education here in Dallas for the first time."
Although UNT-Dallas is located in a predominantly minority area, West said the school's 2,400-member student body is racially balanced and the college provides access to those who could not otherwise afford to go away to school. It's also considered a boon to the region's work force development.
"This institution serves as a symbol of communities working together in order to accomplish a purpose within the city of Dallas," said West. "What we've seen is nothing short of amazing."
Incoming freshman Chelsie Jamerson, 17, of DeSoto, said she can't wait.
"I'm excited," said Chelsie, who wants to major in sociology. "I've been looking forward to this day for a while."
After a friend told her about UNT-Dallas, Chelsie said she checked out the school's website and was hooked.
"I decided it would be nice to be part of a new growing school," she said. "As I grow in life I'll grow with the school, too."
Farther south, Texas A&M University-Central Texas in Killeen and Texas A&M University-San Antonio are in the midst of building or breaking ground on new facilities.
"These were areas of the state that were underserved for higher education," said Jason Cook, a spokesman for the Texas A&M University System.
The Central Texas-Killeen campus began in 1999 with help from Tarleton State University while the San Antonio campus got its start in 2000 under Texas A&M University-Kingsville.
Armed with $25 million in tuition revenue bonds and an additional $15 million through the permanent university fund, Texas A&M University-Central Texas is breaking ground Thursday on its first building. The university, which had more than 2,500 students in the spring, is expecting an increase this fall.
Given its proximity to Fort Hood, "we see that (Central Texas) campus playing a significant role in meeting the educational needs of our active military and veterans as well," Cook said. "Obviously San Antonio, being one of the top 10 cities in the United States, there were needs for additional pathways for higher education in that area."
San Antonio is expecting more than 3,100 students this fall, 50 percent more than the same time last year.
"It has been a tremendous growth on the San Antonio campus," Cook said.
Texas A&M-San Antonio is based out of a former middle school but began constructing its first building this summer with $40 million in tuition revenues bonds granted in the last legislative session.