Photo courtesy UTEP

UTEP Connect celebrates five years of student success

Alejandra Vasquez-Macias’ higher education journey was lengthy, filled with uncertainties and instability.

In 2011, she was near completion of her education degree, but raising two children, trying to figure out how to attend traditional classes and completing an internship became too much of a struggle. So, she left UTEP to focus on her family.

Several years later, Vasquez-Macias returned to The University of Texas at El Paso to finish what she started. This time, the venue to pursue her academic dreams was more suited to her circumstances.

Online learning made it possible for Vasquez-Macias to return to college. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Chicano Studies in Fall 2019.

“I had taken a couple of elective classes online, but never really put forth the effort to dedicate myself to the classes and give it the time I should have allotted to it,” she said in 2018. “Now, with a combination of being much more mature and seeing all the benefits a higher ed degree could provide for my family, I find myself embracing the online experience. So far, this time around, my experience has been amazing.”

Vasquez-Macias, who is now a busy mother of four children, took online classes through UTEP Connect.

UTEP Connect, the University’s collection of fully online baccalaureate and graduate programs and graduate certificates, has been providing online instruction since 2015.

“UTEP Connect was created with the idea of the nontraditional student,” said Hector M. Gonzales, the director of UTEP Connect. “These students may have full-time jobs, be in the military, live outside of El Paso or have other life commitments that do not allow them to attend classes on campus.”

And there are students such as Vasquez-Macias who enroll in the University and after a year or two, have to stop.

Gonzales said based on the 2018-19 school year, 65% of UTEP Connect students were transfer students from institutions throughout the country, 33.8% were continuing students — students who attended UTEP but have been out for at least one academic year – and 1.1% were incoming freshmen.

However, it is important to note that those incoming students are not recent high school graduates. Rather, they are individuals years removed from high school who realize the value of a college education and decide to enroll in an online program to accommodate their already busy lives.

UTEP Connect is a unit of UTEP’s Extended University, which serves as the hub for nontraditional academic programs, professional training and education, and community enrichment.

“UTEP has a long tradition of delivering high-quality online courses and degrees, with programs from the School of Nursing leading the

way,” said Beth Brunk-Chavez, Ph.D., dean of Extended University. “In the past five years, we have taken a deliberate and careful approach to developing and delivering online programs across several colleges at UTEP. In collaboration with faculty, our focus is the experience of our students and their success. In all aspects of our work – from the course development process, to our marketing, from our enrollment counselors to our advisors – our guiding question is always, ‘How does this decision affect the students?’ UTEP Connect programs succeed when our students do.”

Extended University works with UTEP’s academic colleges to coordinate and manage a rapidly growing inventory of fully online degree and certificate programs.

Between Summer 2015 and Spring 2020, 2,183 students graduated from UTEP Connect online programs, including 963 undergraduates, 1,175 graduates and 45 students in graduate certificate programs.

UTEP Connect offers eight bachelor’s programs, 10 master’s programs (including three nursing programs), and five graduate certificate programs.

“The professors who teach on campus are the same professors who teach our online students,” Gonzales said. “The quality of education online students receive is no different than those of the traditional students.”

The number of classes UTEP Connect offers and the number of available spots in those classes has increased during the past five years.