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Tarleton State University opens Fort Worth campus

🕐 8 min read

It’s open.

Tarleton State University opened the first public university campus in Fort Worth Aug. 1 on property along Chisholm Trail Parkway.

Fall classes begin Aug. 26 at the new campus. And it’s already out of space.

At the groundbreaking ceremony Feb. 27, 2018, Dr. F. Dominic Dottavio, the 15th president of Tarleton State University, said as much.

“We know that already,” Dottavio said at the groundbreaking. But there’s a plan.

“We know where all the other buildings are going to go, and where No. 2, No. 3, and so forth need to be,” he said then.

But that’s a problem for another day.

Aug. 1, 2019, was a day for celebration.

The three-story, 76,000-square-foot building on 80 acres donated by Walton Development will enable Tarleton to work with business and industry leaders to expand current degree programs and add new ones, furthering continued economic growth and development in North Texas, the university says.

Planning is under way for a second building to house programs offered by Tarleton’s College of Education and its School of Kinesiology.

“Today we celebrate more than the opening of a building. We celebrate John Tarleton’s dream, and we celebrate our commitment to Fort Worth and the students we serve,” Dottavio said.

“As the heart of our presence in Fort Worth, this first building reflects our rich heritage and bright future. Our founder ranched in Palo Pinto and Erath counties in the late 19th century and hoped to make education accessible and affordable throughout the region. Today we extend our founder’s dream,” Dottavio said.

In an interview, Dottavio said Tarleton likely had no idea what he unleashed in the late 1800s.

“He was a man of vision, there’s no doubt about it. His vision was that every student coming from the farms and ranches around Stephenville would have an opportunity for a free education,” he said. The free part proved unsustainable.

“I think he always viewed this as small, agriculturally oriented in a rural area for a few people and I think he would be stunned. He’d be amazed to see where Tarleton is today, the breadth, the scope of programs,” Dottavio said, “Disciplines he never could have imagined, and certainly probably never would have imagined that we would be opening a place under his namesake here in Fort Worth.”

Future groundbreakings will be under a new president.

Dottavio announced in March that he was stepping down as president but would remain at the school as a faculty member in Tarleton’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, where he has had an appointment as a tenured professor since coming to the university. He also will assist the Division of Institutional Advancement.

Education, he said, is one of the most rewarding of careers possible.

“You’re changing lives every day that you’re at a university because you’re truly influencing future citizens and positively affecting them as contributors to a region, to a state, to a country, to the world. For me, it’s hard to imagine a more satisfying career than being in education,” Dottavio said.

The Handbook of Texas Online notes that Tarleton State can be traced to 1895, when prominent businessman and philanthropist John Tarleton provided an endowment in his will to establish a college in Erath County.

The school struggled financially, but in 1917 the Texas Legislature established a branch of Texas A&M College at Stephenville to be named John Tarleton Agricultural College. In 1949 the name was changed to Tarleton State College and to Tarleton State University in 1973, the handbook article said.

“This is a watershed event for Tarleton, Fort Worth, Tarrant County and the entire A&M University System,” Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp said. “This state-of-the-art facility and future campus will stimulate job growth, spur innovation and improve overall quality of life for generations to come.

“Texas was built on cattle, cotton, oil and gas, but today we celebrate a new step in growing the Texas empire – the opportunity to empower our human resources with an affordable, high-quality university education,” Sharp said in his prepared remarks.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price called education the key to the city’s future.

“As Fort Worth continues to see economic growth and attract new residents and businesses, we must provide greater educational opportunities,” she said. “Tarleton’s Fort Worth campus is a significant step in offering accessible and affordable higher education opportunities that will lead our community toward a better-educated workforce. Together, we will make Fort Worth the best place to live, work and learn.”

District 97 Texas Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, said the campus is a reflection of the competitiveness and community outlined in Fort Worth’s economic development plan, and praised the school as the first public university in Fort Worth.

Tarleton first began offering classes in Fort Worth more than 40 years ago in 1978 with eight students on West Myrtle Street. It moved to the Richard C. Schaffer Building on Enderly Place in the 1990s, and expanded to the Hickman Building on Camp Bowie Boulevard in 2006.

Today, Tarleton-Fort Worth offers more than 50 undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs to working adults, community college graduates and returning students. Classes for the university’s first Ph.D. – a doctorate in criminal justice – begin this fall at the new campus.

The university says that there are plans for the campus to serve 9,000 students by 2030, based in part on partnerships with Tarrant County, Weatherford, Hill and Collin two-year colleges to create a seamless pathway to a four-year degree for students wishing to do that and on an increasing number of students who want to add a graduate degree to their resumes.

“Tarleton is helping sustain our reputation as one of the best places in America to live, work and raise a family,” said Fort Worth District 6 Councilman Jungus Jordan. “The strategic location of Tarleton’s new campus is a catalyst for continued development in Southwest Fort Worth and a tremendous benchmark for the future success of higher education in North Texas.”

Tarleton-Fort Worth’s number of transfer students is up 53 percent from just six years ago, and its four-year graduation rate tops 61 percent, the university said.

“As our North Texas economy rapidly evolves through technological advances, colleges and universities play an integral role in providing the answer to workforce needs through academic programs and training,” Tarrant County College Chancellor Gene Giovannini said. “Tarleton and TCC are leaders in preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s economy while also sharing the values of academic access and opportunity.”

District 10 State. Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Fort Worth, called Tarleton’s investment in Fort Worth a key contributor to training a globally competitive workforce, “an investment in a vibrant North Texas business climate and our diverse, dynamic community.”

U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, said higher education opportunities are paramount when businesses consider a move to Tarrant County.

“We need more schools to operate like Tarleton. They partner directly with businesses, frankly, like mine and organizations in the community and focus their academic offerings on the current needs of employers, which is important right now,” Williams said at the Thursday morning program.

“Their emphasis on developing our workforce directly benefits our economy, by having students that are job ready upon graduation and I can say, as we all know, and we have jobs that are ready,” Williams, a Weatherford automobile dealer, said.

“The opening of this new campus in Fort Worth allows Tarleton and the Texas A&M University System to provide students with even greater opportunities to realize their academic dreams,” said District 101 State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, chair of the House Committee on Higher Education.

Turner called Tarleton’s ongoing commitment to an accessible, affordable higher education “good news for Fort Worth, Tarrant County and North Texas.”

At the spring 2018 groundbreaking for the first building, John Vick, executive vice president of Walton Global Holdings Ltd., talked about how Tarleton’s dream for a home of its own came true.

He recalled the meeting in February 2014 regarding donation of the land.

“They had a vision and needed a place to make it happen. We were creating our vision for this beautiful piece of property and realized that designing the west half of the property around the university met many of our goals as well,” Vick said.

“It takes a vision. People willing to take a chance. Commitment and perseverance,” he said. “Someone recently asked why we donated the best 80 acres along Chisholm Trail Parkway to Tarleton. The answer is simple. It’s right where Tarleton belongs.”

The global Dallas-based firm Perkins+Will was the architect and designer and Holder Construction the builder on the project.

Includes material from Business Press archives

Tarleton State University

Fort Worth Campus

10850 Texan Rider Drive

Fort Worth, TX 76036

By the numbers:

15,000+: Alumni who live in or near Fort Worth

$1.2 billion: Economic impact in Fort Worth vicinity

1,900+: Students enrolled in Fort Worth

4: Rank in Texas transfer graduation rate

19 to 1: Student-faculty ratio

80: Number of acres in the campus

50+: Degree programs in Fort Worth


Tarleton is founding member of The Texas A&M University System and offers degree programs to more than 13,000 students at Stephenville, Fort Worth, Waco, Midlothian, RELLIS Academic Alliance in Bryan, and online.

Fun Fact: 

Legend has it that John Tarleton, founder of the university, had a pet duck named Oscar P who went everywhere with him. The two were so close that Oscar P is said to be buried with Tarleton.

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