For the 17th year in a row, El Paso Community College (EPCC) has been recognized as a leader in education to Hispanic students by the Hispanic Outlook on Education magazine. In the February, 2022 issue, EPCC was highlighted on the cover, had an article on its success, interview with EPCC President, Dr. William Serrata and a distinction of being one of the nation’s leaders in associate’s degrees granted and Hispanic enrollment.
Now more than ever, a college degree or certificate will be needed to be hired for the jobs of the future. EPCC is providing vital academic and workforce training and is developing the skilled graduates needed for these jobs. As the country emerges from the global pandemic, community colleges are the driving force in helping students begin their higher education journey or to reskill or upskill to advance their careers. At EPCC students are finding both their paths to degrees and to success.
Ensuring that students graduate has long been a priority for EPCC, but students leave with much more than that. One student, Mariana Prieto Caballero completed her associate’s degree in Accounting, Business and Economics and transferred to continue her education at the University of Texas at El Paso. She says EPCC gave her confidence and the belief that she has the ability to achieve her dreams. “I sincerely believe that EPCC has changed my life. I feel more prepared as a person than I felt two years ago, not only academically, but in general,” Caballero said.
Caballero’s experience is common. Community colleges have historically been a nimble sector of higher education and the pandemic has further elevated their importance to strengthening our nation and communities. EPCC President, Dr. William Serrata says the pandemic has been a challenging time, but one that has also demonstrated the resiliency of both students and colleges. It has also shown the importance of renewing the commitment to innovation and flexibility in order to best serve students. “For Hispanic and other underserved students, higher education is the surest pathways to the middle class,” Serrata said. “However, students can’t benefit from a college degree if they don’t complete their studies. Therefore, providing students support and tools so that they can graduate is a primary goal at EPCC.”
Daisy Martinez is another example of EPCC’s laser-focus on helping students reach their dreams. Martinez moved to the United States from Mexico in sixth grade and learned to read, write and speak English. Originally her plan after college graduation was to enter the Navy. Unfortunately, her plans were derailed when she suffered a debilitating accident that put her in a coma. After coming out of the coma, Martinez had to re-learn basic motor skills, including walking, as well as how to talk again. As she continued her journey to recovery, she decided to enroll at EPCC. Martinez credits the faculty, staff and counselors combined with the college’s robust support services as helping her to achieve her goals. “There is no doubt that I have struggled tremendously with my disability, but I’m working hard toward a career and a better future,” Martinez said. “I am proud to be the first one in my family to go to college, and I do believe that EPCC has been the best place to start!”
Martinez and other Hispanic students describe feeling welcomed, connected and a sense of belonging at EPCC. The college has always been committed to intentionally serving Hispanic students. EPCC is a nationally recognized institution that has prioritized student success by closing equity gaps as well as having caring faculty and staff who prioritize students. The college has advanced the success of Hispanic and all students by utilizing data, evidence-based practices and strong leadership. The results show. For more than 16 years, EPCC has been ranked among the top institutions for graduating Hispanic students. EPCC has also received numerous national accolades, including being among the first institutions to earn the Seal of Excelencia from Excelencia in Education for its continued work to accelerate Hispanic student success by going beyond enrollment and demonstrating intentionality and impact in serving students.
EPCC serves students from all walks of life, but regardless of their diverse stories, success and determination are a common thread. For EPCC graduate Mario Ulloa, the road to realizing his dreams had roadblocks along the way, the most challenging being an 18-year prison sentence on a drug-related conviction. He knew he wanted a better future and enrolled in EPCC and focused on his art. He was mentored by Graphic Arts faculty who guided him in first in completing a certificate in Graphic Design and later received an associate degree in Advertising, Graphics and Design. He had his first solo art exhibition at a local museum last fall. He says EPCC prepared him for his career including teaching him to use computer technology and programs, design and entrepreneurial skills for his business. “EPCC has improved my life in many ways,” Ulloa said. “The proudest moment was walking to receive my associate degree with my family there to support me.”