The University of Texas at El Paso was founded under Senate Bill 183 in March 1913 as a "school of miners and metallurgy" for the state of Texas. The idea for a school of mines was first publicly suggested by William B. Phillips, of the University of Texas geology department, at the International Mining Convention in El Paso in 1903. It opened in 1914 as the Texas School of Mines and Metallurgy, under the supervision of the University of Texas Board of Regents. Title to the property of the El Paso Military Institute was to be transferred to the University of Texas. In 1919 the legislature made it a branch of the University of Texas, and in 1920 the regents named it the College of Mines and Metallurgy. The broadening of undergraduate and graduate programs was reflected in subsequent name changes, to Texas Western College in 1949 and to the University of Texas at El Paso in 1967. It is the second oldest academic component of the University of Texas System. The institution was established when El Paso was the site of the second largest custom smelter in the world and a center of mining activity. El Pasoans gave to the state the original campus, now part of Fort Bliss, and later the first portion of the present campus on a mesa overlooking the downtown business district. The school was moved there in 1917 after a fire. The enduring and distinctive characteristic of the new campus is its architecture-the only collection of buildings in the Western Hemisphere of Bhutanese style, reminiscent of the monastery-fortresses of the Himalayas. Mrs. S. H. Worrell, wife of the first dean, suggested the style, and noted El Paso architect Henry C. Trost designed the first group of buildings (now called Old Main, Graham, and Quinn halls). During the years since, architects have maintained this theme; the Business Administration and Library buildings of the early 1980s, designed by José Gómez, are classic Bhutanese.
The faculty and courses in liberal arts and teacher training of El Paso Junior College (1920–27) were merged with those of the College of Mines in 1927, a major step toward increasing growth and diversity. The university received the Chamizal legacy of 146 acres and $2.29 million in 1937. The first M.A. program began in 1940 and the first doctoral program, that in geological sciences, in 1974. Since 1976 the university has had a graduate school and six colleges: Business Administration, Education, Engineering, Liberal Arts, Nursing and Allied Health, and Science. Both baccalaureate and graduate degrees are offered in all the colleges. The enrollment first reached 1,000 in 1939, 2,000 in 1947, 5,000 in 1962, and 10,000 in 1968, and since 1977 has been more than 15,000. By spring of 1985 the institution had awarded more than 42,000 degrees. The present campus started with three classroom buildings, a powerhouse, and a mill on a 22.9-acre site. In 1985 the university had a main campus, a separate Nursing-Allied Health campus, and a president's home totaling 415 acres, sixty-four buildings, and an archeological site of fifty-eight acres in northeast El Paso. The university's 1983–84 budget of $53.8 million included $35.8 million in state funds, $11.3 million in auxiliary enterprises funds, $2.5 million in gifts, grants, designated and other funds, and $4.2 million in sponsored research and services. Gifts to the Excellence Fund for academic uses increased from $543,430 in 1974 to $1 million in 1980 and $2.8 million in 1984. Alumni and the El Paso business community conduct annual fund-raising campaigns. The university is accredited through the doctoral level by the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges, and various specialized programs are accredited by the appropriate agencies in the component colleges.
The university generally has drawn most of its students from the immediate geographic area. In the fall of 1984 the 15,322 students included 12,691 from El Paso County, 350 from elsewhere in Texas, 834 from other states, 572 from Mexico, and 875 from other foreign countries. The ethnic background included 47.3 percent Hispanic, 41.1 percent Anglo, 8.5 percent foreign, 2.2 percent black, and less than 1 percent Asian or American Indian. For the years 1978–82, UTEP had more than 40 percent of the students from Mexico attending Texas public institutions of higher education, and it normally ranks at or near the top nationally in enrollment of Mexican nationals. The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, showed UTEP at the top of its listing of colleges graduating Hispanics in engineering in 1983–84. In 1955, as Texas Western, the institution became the first formerly all-white college in Texas to admit black undergraduate students. This action resulted from both a regents' decision in July and, a few days later, a federal court ruling in a case against the college, the first legal decision that applied the Supreme Court ruling in the Brown case specifically to Texas.
The university has earned a reputation for excellence in its athletic programs. UTEP won the 1966 NCAA basketball championship and was the first team to do so with an all-black starting lineup. Since 1970 UTEP has been a member of the Western Athletic Conference. The university continued to excel in the NCAA basketball tournament through the 1980s. In the 1970s the school's track and field team rose to prominence under Coach Ted Banks. In the time period from 1974 to 1982 UTEP's track and field program won eighteen NCAA championships. The program also produced a number of Olympians. In the mid-1980s, however, controversy arose over allegations that some track stars had received money. A criminal investigation was later dropped. The university's 52,000-seat Sun Bowl Stadium hosts the annual Sun Bowl college football game.
The University Library collection increased from 437,737 bound volumes of periodicals, books, and documents in 1975 to 793,300 in 1993. Including microforms, maps, and other items, the totals were 633,345 items in 1975 and 1.2 million in 1993. This figure had grown to 2.8 million by 2001, including 828,000 books and bound journals. A new six-story building was opened in late 1984. Special collections include the S. L. A. Marshall Military History Collection; the Southwest and Border Studies Collection; the Western Fiction Collection, based on books collected by C. L. Sonnichsen; and the Carl Hertzog Collection, named after the founder of the university's Texas Western Press. The university also operates the El Paso Centennial Museum, which includes the Chihuahuan Desert Gardens, the Laboratory for Environmental Biology, and the Indio Mountains Research Center in Hudspeth County; the John W. Kidd Memorial Seismic Observatory; the Center for Inter-American and Border Studies; and the Institute of Oral History. Since it is located on the Mexican border, the university participates in numerous cooperative research efforts and cultural exchanges with institutions in Mexico and other Latin-American countries. It is a center for conferences on linguistics, education, health problems, and other concerns shared by the neighboring nations. In 1993–94 the university had an annual research expenditure of over $10 million mostly from funding by government agencies. Administrative heads have been Stephen Howard Worrell (1914–23), John William Kidd (1923–27), Charles Alexander Puckett (1927–31), all deans; and presidents John Gerald Barry (1931–34), Dossie Marion Wiggins (1935–48), Wilson Homer Elkins (1949–54), Dysart E. Holcomb (1955–58), Joseph Royall Smiley (1958–60, 1969–72), Joseph M. Ray (1960–68), A. B. Templeton (1972–80), and Haskell M. Monroe, Jr. (1980–88). For the 1992–93 regular session, there were 16,524 students and 729 faculty; in the fall of 2000 enrollment had dropped slightly, to 15,224, and the faculty numbered 867. The president was Diana Natalicio. In 2001 the university offered sixty bachelor's and fifty-three master's degrees. On campus there were eighty-three buildings on 366 acres.