by Jim Heiney, EPCC Interim Director of Marketing and Community Relations
June 28, 2019 is a special day for El Paso Community College. It is the 50th Anniversary, to the day, that voters in El Paso County elected to create a Junior College District. This paved the way for El Paso Community College. State Senator Joe Christie spearheaded the plan for a community college in El Paso. Senator Christie worked with community leaders locally and in Austin to make the vision a reality. “Every time I comeback to El Paso, I am amazed at the growth of El Paso Community College,” Senator Joe Christie said. “I feel it was the most important event of my legislative career.”
In the fall of 1967, Senator Christie on a tour of Corpus Christi saw how their community college offered workforce training for the area and thought El Paso needed something similar. As a result, Christie formed a steering committee to push this effort in December of 1968. Around 100 prominent El Pasoans were involved, including local realtor, Joe Foster who was appointed co-chair of the committee with Christie. Members of the steering committee visited the Tarrant County Community Colleges in Fort Worth and reviewed other institutions to learn the best ways to start a community college in El Paso. The committee share their vision and eventually got enough El Paso voters to sign a petition in order to have an election for the Community College District. On May 16, 1969, 10,000 signatures were given to the Coordinating Board of Colleges and Universities in Austin and an election was set for June 28. The vote on June 28, 1969, only two of the four parts passed. The ballot issue to create the district passed, as well as, the creation of a seven-member Board of Trustees. However, the items to create a maintenance tax and a bond issue failed. This meant that while the college could operate and had state appropriations for academics, the ability to raise funds for buildings and operations had failed.
The newly elected Board of Trustees had their work cut out for them. This new board consisted of Joe Foster, who would be named chair, Dr. Eugenio Aguilar, Ted Karam, Thomas Pendergast, Earle Williams, Albert Horowitz and Joe Yarbrough. The first job of the newly elected Board of Trustees was fundraising. Along with getting into their own pockets, the Board received a loan from El Paso National Bank and Texas Higher Education Board member; Tom Hatfield secured state funding for instruction that allowed classes to start. The Board hired Dr. Alfredo De Los Santos as the first President. Even though funding for classes was obtained, EPCC did not have funding for the buildings to offer classes. Fortunately, the community stepped up to help. Instruction began for 901 students in rooms at Thomason Hospital as well as in high schools across the city in the fall of 1971. Later, Fort Bliss agreed to allow EPCC to operate in unused buildings in Logan Heights. In the fall of 1972, the Logan Heights location became the first campus of El Paso Community College. This started EPCC’s strong partnerships with our community that continues today.
In order to secure the funding for facilities and operations, the EPCC Board of Trustees attempted a second bond election. However, despite the overwhelming support of creating the community college by the majority of voters, the proposition for a property tax failed since at the time, only landowners could vote on property tax and bond issues. However, this vote was challenged and it was argued that all citizens should be able to vote on property tax and bond issues, not just the landowners. The case was made that even non-landowners paid taxes through rent and that a junior college would benefit low-income, non-land owners, so they too, should be able to vote. Ultimately, the case went the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court agreed and struck down the Texas law, which then allowed all citizens to vote. A new bond election was held and it passed.
By the mid-1970s, El Paso Community College began to grow. Space was purchased on Rio Grande Avenue in 1974 through a grant from Project Hope for the purpose of education in the health field. Most of EPCC’s Allied Health programs remain at the Rio Grande campus today. Next, with the help of the $20-million-dollar bond that had just passed, land was acquired and the Valle Verde campus was built. EPCC President, Dr. Robert Shepack handed back the keys to Logan Heights as classes began at Valle Verde in the fall of 1978.
Finally, thanks to Hillary Sandoval of the Small Business Administration and Senator John Tower, land was acquired in Northeast El Paso from Fort Bliss that would become Transmountain campus. Classes began at Transmountain in the fall of 1979. While construction was in high gear in the public eye, behind the scenes the college was working to gain its initial accreditation. This was achieved in December 1978, exactly ten years after the first steering committee meeting to form EPCC and continues today.
EPCC continued to grow with the additions of the Northwest in 1994 and the Mission Del Paso campus in 1998, paving an accessible path to college in all areas of the county. In 2016, EPCC began implementation of an ambitious Master Plan, which is creating new buildings in order to expand each of its five campuses, which will provide state-of-the-art technology and innovative learning spaces for students. EPCC is the largest secondary education institution in the borderland with 145 career choices available to students of all ages. EPCC continues its tradition of strong partnerships with area school districts resulting in nationally recognized Dual Credit programs and Early College High Schools as well as with the University of Texas at El Paso, coordinating seamless transfer for students. The college’s partnership with Fort Bliss has broadened the reach of EPCC to the active-duty soldiers, veterans and dependents. In addition, EPCC continues to grow partnerships with business and industry to train skilled and prepared workers.
EPCC has garnered recognition locally and nationally. Since 2006, Hispanic Outlook on Education magazine has consecutively recognized the college as the #1 grantor of associate degrees to Hispanics in the nation. In 2015, EPCC was named one of the Top 10 Community College’s in the Nation by the Aspen Institute. In 2016, the college received the prestigious Award of Excellence for Student Success from the American Association of Community Colleges. In addition, EPCC programs and faculty are recognized for the efforts regionally and at the national level, including Military Friendly designations for its work with service members, veterans and spouses. The college is an annual recipient of the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) for its work in offering educational opportunity to our diverse population. Currently, EPCC is a finalist for the Seal of Excelencia by Excelencia in Education for promotion of equity and college completion for Latino students.
EPCC is proud to Honor the Past & Build the Future. The college is proud to celebrate its legacy but looks to the future. In the past 50 years, more than one million students have attended and more than 80,000 have graduated. Just as was envisioned half a century ago, El Paso Community College remains the Best Place to Start and Finish!