El Paso Community College Creates a Pathway to Graduation

Written by

Keri Moe, El Paso Community College

After graduating from high school, Raymundo Rios, like many students, had a difficult time deciding between attending a university or a community college.  Ultimately, he decided for many reasons including cost, that El Paso Community College (EPCC) was the best place for him to start.

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“From experience, attending a community college rather than a university was the best choice I made,” Rios, a Criminal Justice and Psychology major who is also an EPCC Tejanos Baseball player said.  “The teacher-student ratio is fantastic; it is more personal, which makes the environment better and community college is less expensive.”

Rios is not alone. Most students selecting EPCC do so because they recognize the unparalleled value of community colleges.

“EPCC fills a vital role, one that offers access to both high quality education and affordable academic opportunities,” Art Fierro EPCC board of trustees chair said. “With its unwavering focus on success, EPCC prepares students to achieve their current academic goals, meet tomorrow’s challenges and be competitive in local and global job markets.”

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This is critical for the more than 37,000 students that EPCC serves each year where the majority are Hispanic and much of the overall student population is low-income, first-generation and underrepresented youth and adult learners.  Located in West Texas along the U.S./Mexico border, EPCC has five campuses, 138 programs of study where students interact with exceptional professors in dynamic learning environments. In its 48-year history, nearly 78 percent of all degrees awarded have been to Hispanic students.

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Under the leadership of Dr. William Serrata, EPCC president, the college has become nationally recognized.  In 2015, EPCC was named one of the Top Ten Community Colleges in the Nation by the Aspen Institute.   AACC recognized the college with its Student Success Award in 2016.   EPCC is an Achieving the Dream Leader College and is one of 30 schools accepted into AACC’s Pathways Project.    The Women’s Cross Country team has four national titles.  Impressively, all the athletic teams—baseball, softball and cross country—boast athletes with an average GPA of 3.19, which was recognized by the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). EPCC also excels in academic competition where the speech and debate team has ranked among the top three teams in the country at national tournaments for nearly a decade.  Individual students have been selected as Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholars, others are selected to participate in a variety of internships and programs, and many transfer to four-year institutions successfully.  EPCC is consistently recognized as a Military Friendly School and is rated number one for awarding associate degrees to Hispanic students among many other national recognitions.   

“It’s so important that education doesn’t leave Hispanics out.  I am so happy and proud to say that I am Hispanic and going to graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree,” said Camille Acosta who graduated from EPCC in 2015 and will graduate from Western Kentucky University in May 2017.  “I am so proud of my Hispanic culture, and EPCC reminds you that your voice matters, you can make a difference and you can achieve your goals always.”

Not only is EPCC a top producer of associate degrees awarded to Hispanics, the college is also helping students transcend economic barriers.  A recent study cited in the New York Times showed that students graduating from EPCC achieve impressive rates of upward economic mobility.  According to The Equality of Opportunity Project, on the overall mobility index, the college ranks fifth out of all colleges surveyed meaning that 37 percent of EPCC students move up two or more income brackets after completing their degrees.   Income mobility is extraordinarily significant for a city whose median family income is just over $40,000, which lags behind the State of Texas and the nation where more than 23 percent of the population is below the poverty level.

As a result, EPCC has been a leader in improving economic mobility and increasing educational access.  From developing innovative programs to serving diverse students to enhanced efforts to promote a college-going culture, EPCC is creating a pathway for more individuals to succeed in college.  They have built impressive community partnerships with K-12 school districts as evidenced by nationally recognized Early College High Schools and a growing Dual Credit Program.   Because of these and other collaborations, students are better prepared for college, know that a degree is within reach and more students are graduating.

EPCC is an institution that has proven itself to be a progressive educational leader that is committed to creating access to education and the success services necessary to serve diverse students and keep them on a path to completing their degrees.  “EPCC is focused on engaging students, growing community partnerships and fostering a culture of excellence with measurable outcomes,” Serrata said. “By creating a college-going culture and implementing innovative student success initiatives, EPCC is opening the pathway to higher education, increasing the number of graduates and developing a better prepared workforce.”

The results of these efforts are clear.  Since its establishment in 1969, EPCC has a long history of transforming students’ lives.  And if you don’t believe it, ask a graduate—all 70,842 of them. •