Diana Natalicio

Madame President: Natalicio, photographed on the UTEP campus on December 11, 2007.
Photograph by Artie Limmer

Look ahead ten years and tell me how the University of Texas at El Paso will be different from what it is today.

I think the campus will be larger. We’ll have more students at the graduate level, in particular, because we’re increasing the number of doctoral programs—we have fourteen now, where fifteen years ago we had one. We’re focused primarily on science and engineering in those programs because it reinforces our quest for research funding. At the undergraduate level, we’ll still be undereducated as a region, so ten years out our commitment to access will be firm. We have to continue to try to provide opportunities for all the people who are showing up, primarily from Mexico, with very little in the way of an educational background. It’s not their fault; they come from rural areas. If they’re going to be a part of the future, we’ve got to educate them.

Your total enrollment is about 20,000 students now, and you’re talking about an increase of 10,000. By when?

I would say 2020, approximately. Because of our population growth and Fort Bliss’s growth. And graduate programs that attract people from outside the area.

Do you have enough space for that many more students?

What will change is the way in which we teach. A lot more will be done online and in hybrid formats, where people don’t come to the campus every day, where they have meetings with faculty members but do a lot of their work online. We’re also establishing a presence at Fort Bliss—

A satellite campus.

Exactly. Together with a community college, we’re occupying space at the base. And because this is a very dispersed geographic area, we do a lot of our master’s courses for teachers and a lot of our undergraduate courses for prospective teachers out in the Lower Valley, on the far east side of the city. We use a school building for that purpose on a community college campus.

Tell me about the kinds of kids who are enrolling. I want to understand the profile of a typical UTEP student—if there is such a thing—versus, say, a typical UT-Austin student.

Most of our students are the first in their families to go to college. Most are low-income. Most are employed while they go to school, not only to pay for their studies but to help contribute to the family revenue stream. Most live at home.

How many students live on campus?

About 450 out of 20,000.

That’s about 2 percent—a startlingly low percentage. Though I suppose it does take a huge responsibility off your shoulders.

Yes. I wish we had more of that responsibility, because the experience of living away from home is a very good one for students, but they can’t afford it. Poverty is a terrible thing. It closes doors to opportunities. We try to provide financial aid so students can participate in study abroad—we have programs in Italy and London, for instance—but we have to come up with creative ways of doing it.

Where do your students come from?

More than 91 percent are from this area: We get just over 82 percent from El Paso County and 8.5 percent from Mexico.

That 8.5 percent from Mexico translates to 1,700 students who commute?

Yeah. There are many other Mexican students commuting to El Paso, including to private high schools and community colleges. But UTEP gets the biggest chunk.

Nearly 73 percent

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