When former Texas Senator Joe Christie envisioned creating a junior college in El Paso more than 50 years ago, he never imagined the school’s student body would one day exceed that of the local university.
Christie never imagined the college would grow to five campuses stretching across the county, with a sixth one in the works.
PHOTOS COURTESY EPCC MARKETING
EPCC's president Dr. William Serrata with the former Texas Senator Joe Christie at the 50th anniversary.
With it being the 50-year anniversary of voters approving the creation of El Paso Community College, Christie revisited the past with EPCC President William Serrata. The two toured El Paso Museum of History’s exhibit celebrating the milestone.
Old newspaper clippings, campus posters, event programs and photos that tell the story of how the college has shaped the county since it opened its doors to 900 students in 1971.
With it being the end of the 50 years since voters passed a ballot measure establishing the junior college district and the college’s first board of trustees. It also marks Christie’s 86th birthday, which was intentional on his part.
‘Because El Paso Community College has touched the lives of more than a million students who have passed through, it’s a major accomplishment that I’m very proud of,” Christie, who served as a state senator from El Paso from 1967 to 1973, said. This fall, El Paso Commmunity College will enroll more than 29,000 students.
That’s slightly more than University of Texas at El Paso, which had about 25,000 students enrolled in fall 2018, according to its website. Since it opened in 1971, El Paso Community College has awarded more than 80,000 associate degrees and Serrata expects it will award its 100,000th degree by 2022.
“What I’m just absolutely thrilled at is how they’ve handled the explosive growth,” Christie said of the college. “That’s really not easy; you can have a successful operation but many have failed because they couldn’t handle the growth.”
The former senator initially envisioned the college as a way of providing vocational training for residents to attract industries and business to the region, but said the school quickly focused on academic programs that would put students on track to attend a four-year university.
Today, 88% of El Paso Community Colleges’s 145 programs are geared toward academic transfer, according to
Serrata, and over 80% of its students transfer to the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). As a first-generation college student, Christie attributes his own success to the G.I. Bill enabling him earn a geology degree, followed by a law degree.
This led him to push the state to invest in the junior college, even before El Paso’s voters had approved a local tax rate for the school.
El Paso Community College remains focused on increasing access to higher education in a region and state where the college participation rate is lower than the national average, Serrata said. A little more than half of Texas high school students go on to college, compared to the national average of 72%. In the El Paso region, 58% of students go on to college.