Brianna Chavez said that the caring attitude of the Ysleta Elementary School nurse made a strong enough impression on her that she decided back then to become a nurse. She followed that path and graduated last May from El Paso Community College with an associate of applied science degree in nursing.

Her externship program at the Hospitals of Providence East Campus allowed her to rotate among specialties, which led to her decision to apply for a job in the hospital’s emergency room after graduation. She is in the middle of a 10-week orientation under a preceptor (mentor) nurse.

Chavez, 27, said she likes the ER because of the diversity of cases and patients, and the opportunities to test her knowledge. At that point in her shift, she already had helped with a child who came in because of a playground fall and a man who had a bad anxiety attack due to drugs. On a previous day, she was part of a team that unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate a woman who had suffered a severe heart attack.  

“It’s a lot of responsibility, but nothing I can’t handle,” she said during a break from her duties.

Chavez said her EPCC degree plan gave her a solid foundation for this career, which will be in high demand locally, regionally and nationally for years to come. It is the kind of outcome that will benefit the college and its Texas counterparts now that the state launched a new funding formula for community colleges on Sept. 1.

With the passage of House Bill 8 by the 88th Texas Legislature, the state allocated an additional $684 million to help its 50 community college districts build their academic programs and connections to industry. The system aligns policy and funding incentives with workforce needs. EPCC received an additional $7.1 million this year because of the new system. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law on June 9.

Among the goals of the innovative outcomes-based method are to generate more graduates with degrees, certificates or “credentials of value” who want to continue their education at a four-year institution or enter the workforce in fields with competitive salaries, opportunities for advancement and more job security. Those fields include health care, commercial driving, construction management, data analysis, advanced manufacturing, information technology and automotive technology.

Woody Hunt

Woody Hunt, El Paso businessman and philanthropist, presided over Texas’ Commission on Community College Finance, which started to study the issue in fall 2021. The 12-member group made up of state legislators, policy experts and community college officials submitted its report to the legislature a year later.  

Hunt said the commission’s proposals, which recognized the challenges to the workforce, earned the unanimous support of legislators and the executive branch. He said the legislation, the funding that goes with it and – most importantly – the policy changes, will lead to a more competitive Texas.

The businessman called the law a continuation of a sustained effort to get the state to focus on post-secondary education and the creation of a skilled and qualified workforce, especially among people ages 25 to 64.

“I think the stars were aligned,” Hunt said.

EPCC President William Serrata said the additional $7.1 million from the state this year, a 22% increase from the previous year, will increase the state’s total funding to $38.6 million, which is almost a quarter of the college’s 2023-24 budget of more than $158 million.

William Serrata, president of El Paso Community College, said EPCC is receiving an additional $7.1 million in state funding. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Serrata said that the vast majority of the college’s students continue to be interested in “academic transfer” degree plans, but more – about 20% – have wanted to enroll in technical degree programs since the pandemic to earn a credential and enter the workforce. Some examples include nursing, various health programs, welding, automotive technology and Cisco Networking Training where people can design, build and maintain up to medium-sized networks. As a result, the college continues to explore additional occupational skills that will lead to certifications.

“We’re never going to lower the bar,” Serrata said. “In fact, I’ve never seen a student rise to low expectations. We’re going to continue to raise the bar. We’re going to continue to provide the support that our students need. We’re going to graduate them as quickly as we can.”

Approximately 95% of this new funding formula will be based on outcomes such as those already mentioned and the completion of dual credit that puts high school students on an early path to higher education. The previous system, which had been around since the early 1970s, based about 80% of college funding on the number of registered students, the number of credit hours they took, and the amount of time they spent in class. The rest was based on outcomes.

Serrata said the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board worked with an advisory committee of community college leaders to create a formula that gives different values to certain outcomes. The system is set up to benefit the college districts. For example, each cell, such as degree completion, will be judged either on a rolling three-year average or the data from the latest year, whichever is best for the college.

While the results formula is new, Serrata said EPCC started to focus on student outcomes about 10 years ago. Advisers and counselors worked with students to limit the extraneous number of credit courses a student took and, in collaboration with industry partners, began to offer more programs that would lead to in-demand, good paying jobs.

“The focus on completion has really carried us forward,” Serrata said.

The Hospitals of Providence East Campus, near the intersection of Edgemere and Joe Battle Blvd. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Linda Lawson, chief nursing officer at The Hospitals of Providence Transmountain Campus, said it is vital to have a dependable pipeline of viable nursing candidates who are familiar with El Paso’s growing health care needs. The hospital’s “externship” program provides EPCC nursing students with a wide range of real-world experiences that will help them transition to jobs upon graduation.

She said that the hospital employs many EPCC alumni in many fields to include food services, facilities and ancillary services, but the largest percentage would be in nursing and technical specialties such as respiratory therapists, physical therapy assistants as well as X-ray and surgical technicians.

“Having partnerships such as the one we have with EPCC is imperative to our organization,” Lawson said.

Daniel Perez covers higher education for El Paso Matters, in partnership with Open Campus.

Higher education reporter for El Paso Matters in partnership with Open Campus.