Access and excellence go hand-in-hand

“Higher education is a major opportunity generator for achieving the American Dream,” says Diana Natalicio, President of the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). “But its effectiveness has recently been threatened through a variety of forces.”

Declining public support and rising tuition force higher education to do more with less, and price many students out of an education.

Despite this tension, UTEP has made significant strides over the last two decades to offer quality higher education opportunities to its historically underserved and economically underperforming region through a commitment to both access and excellence.

What students deserve

“My primary charge is to enable people with talent, regardless of their means or zip codes, to achieve their full potential, not only because it’s the right thing to do in social justice terms, but because it promotes the collective good, greater prosperity and quality of life for all,” said Natalicio, who became president of the university 28 years ago. “At that time, I thought we’d be well on our way in five years,” she said. “We were, but looking back I can see we were only just getting started.”

One strategy UTEP has effectively deployed is the diversification of revenue streams. Specifically, the institution has built a research enterprise that generates highly competitive research grants--which not only bring resources to campus but also create on-campus job opportunities for undergraduate students.

“Our premise has always been than we can achieve both access and excellence,” Natalicio said. “To create access that’s meaningful you also have to offer excellence. Those students who enroll in response to our access promise have every right to expect the very best education we can possibly provide them.”

For UTEP, that means creating a research-driven campus climate, recruiting competitive faculty, building doctoral programs and developing world-class facilities.

“Many people think that to increase access you have to lower standards,” she said. “We believe we’ve demonstrated that increasing both access and excellence can go hand in hand.”

Campus-wide SEM

“We’ve developed the UTEP Edge to help students gain an integrated range of experiences,” Natalicio said. Edge is part of UTEP’s comprehensive student engagement and professional preparation plan. “Because first generation students seldom enjoy the same social capital and experiential opportunities as their more affluent peers, we have to make sure we work to provide those too, which is why the partnership between Academic and Student Affairs is so strong and visible.”

Natalicio will discuss this model during a plenary luncheon at this November’s AACRAO SEM Conference.

“We try to engage everyone on campus in student success. If you work here, no matter your job--clerical staff, faculty, campus police—students’ aspirations are entrusted to you, and you share responsibility for working to ensure those aspirations are nurtured and achieved,” Natalicio said. “Wherever you work on the campus, you have a role to play in the overall mission of our institution--and your work contributes to UTEP’s student success story.

“This has been the most exciting thing I’ve ever done.”

To join Natalicio and other inspiring campus leaders in their commitment to student success, register now for the AACRAO SEM Conference, November 6-9, 2016, in San Antonio.