Ensuring education: lawmakers and leaders announce $142 million in funding for El Paso colleges and universities

El Paso News

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The Joe Biden Administration is arming students by empowering them through access to education. 

More than $142 million in COVID-19 relief funding for college students in El Paso was announced today through the American Rescue Plan. 

Almost 70 percent of undergraduate students at UTEP hail from zip codes with per capita incomes of less than $20,000 per year. To compare, about 10 percent of students across the country come from households earning less than $20,000 annually. 

Less than 25 percent of El Pasoans have a college degree, and current students risk further egress from education because of the pandemic. 

“We know for many of our students, including our students who are Latino, they’ve experienced learning loss because they have interrupted learning. So the funds are here to provide that additional support, close those gaps that were created in this past year, and to get them back toward finishing their degree,” says Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education. 

The funds will be distributed through the U.S. Department of Education to nearly 3,500 public and private nonprofit colleges and universities across the U.S. 

Texas is set to receive close to $3 billion in higher education funding, at least 50 percent of which will go to direct student aid. 

Funding for institutions of higher learning in El Paso is allocated as follows:

  • University of Texas at El Paso: $76,772,356
  • El Paso Community College: $62,889,441
  • Southwest University at El Paso: $1,305,845
  • Western Technical College: $1,048,519
  • Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso: $581,610
  • Tri-State Cosmetology Institute: $101,966

“The most important part of the fund is aid to students,” says UTEP President Heather Wilson.

“And our students have been really impacted by the pandemic,” she adds. 

Both Sec. Cardona and Pres. Wilson says it’s important to support students considering whether to continue to pursue their degrees after setbacks like illness and job loss derailed many students’ paths toward degrees.

Stipulations in the distribution of funding for colleges and universities are giving schools the opportunity to cater to students’ needs.

“We’re taking an approach of dealing with each student as an individual, understanding what their situation is, and determining how we can help them be on track,” says Pres. Wilson.

The funding will also help remove barriers to higher education by improving educational equity in the Borderland.

UTEP is a R1- designated research university by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, which means students and faculty are among the most elite research institutions in the country that include Harvard, Stanford, and Georgetown universities. 

“UTEP is in the top 5 percent of universities in America when it comes to research,” says Pres. Wilson. 

“But it’s the only one that gives high school students a shot to enter college. All of the others in the top 5 percent are kind of sink or swim,” says Pres. Wilson. “If they allow them to join,” she adds.

UTEP does not have the extensive admissions requirements that other R1-designated research institutions do, allowing local students to access top-tier higher education despite limited (to no) economic advantages. 

The American Rescue Plan funding will empower students to attend college and conduct research by alleviating financial burdens. 

“It really is intended to provide support and equalize the playing field. As we know, if we give those opportunities to all students, then all students will rise,” Sec. Cardona says.

Congresswoman Veronica Escobar was instrumental in securing funding for the American Rescue Plan.

Congresswoman Escobar advocated and voted for the bill that was signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021. 

“Higher education, we know, is a key to entering the middle class and to prosperity. And so, we need to do everything possible to open up these pathways,” she says. 

“We want to remove as many barriers as possible. Help is on the way,” she adds.

Leaders and lawmakers in El Paso are designing policies that not only support students, but also the families of first generation college students who may not know where to turn when it comes to steps like filling out a FAFSA or navigating vast campuses. 

More than 50 percent of UTEP students are first generation college students.

“Being a first generation student like I was — you’re navigating new territory,” says Sec. Cardona.

“And what these funds could mean for these students is additional support, additional guidance. Maybe additional counselors to help them navigate the courses, and to get whatever assistance that college provides or to introduce them to new assistance that’s going to become available through the American Rescue Plan,” he continues.

Pres. Wilson says UTEP is receiving guidance from the U.S. Department of Education regarding distribution of funding and says the University will be communicating instructions to apply and receive assistance directly to students. 

Biden Administration and UTEP officials say the efforts reflect partnerships at the federal, state, and local levels.

“There’s strength in unity, and we’ve got your back. We want you to continue to work hard,” says Cardona of the Biden Administration’s support for higher education. 

“So keep moving forward and we know that you’ve had a tough year and we want to help support you so you can continue to achieve your goals.”

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