University of Texas at El Paso

By: Nancy Hamilton

Revised by: P. J. Vierra

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: June 16, 2022


The University of Texas at El Paso was founded under Senate Bill 183 in April 1913 as the State School of Mines and Metallurgy. The idea for a school of mines in El Paso was first suggested by Hughes Slater, editor of the El Paso Herald, in 1902. William B. Phillips, director of the University of Texas Mineral Survey, concurred in remarks to the International Miners Association convention held at El Paso the following year. In 1914 the school opened under the supervision and control of the University of Texas Board of Regents with Sidney Mezes as its first president and Steve Worrell as dean. Citizens of El Paso, known as the Eighty Founders, purchased the land and buildings belonging to the El Paso Military Institute and then transferred the holdings to the University of Texas.

Since its founding in 1913 the institution has always been a component of the University of Texas System. The regents named it the College of Mines and Metallurgy of the University of Texas in 1920. In 1949 the state legislature changed the name to Texas Western College of the University of Texas. In 1966 the regents changed the name to Texas Western College–The University of Texas at El Paso. The University of Texas at El Paso was the name adopted by the legislature 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. The Lanoria Mesa campus was located adjacent Fort Bliss to the east. The U.S. Army took over the site in 1917 following a fire in 1916 that destroyed the main building, and the school relocated to the present Paso del Norte campus, located just north of downtown El Paso at the foot of the Franklin Mountains and the banks of the Rio Grande. The enduring and distinctive characteristic of the Paso del Norte campus is its architecture—the only collection of buildings in the Western Hemisphere of Bhutanese style, reminiscent of the monastery-fortresses of the Himalayas. Kathleen L. Worrell, the wife of the school’s first dean, proposed the Bhutanese designs. An accomplished author, journalist, and amateur architect, Kathleen shared her ideas with El Paso architect Charles Gibson, who created the first designs. The regents purchased Gibson’s designs and assigned them to another El Paso architect, Henry Trost. Trost designed the school’s first five buildings (today’s Quinn Hall, Old Main, Graham Hall, Prospect Hall, and Vowell Hall.) The architecture of the campus, which is recognized today as Bhutanese Revival, has influenced the design of new campus buildings since 1917, the latest being the Interdisciplinary Research Building (2019).

In 1927, after the first municipal junior college in the state, the El Paso Junior College, announced that it would close due to declining enrollment and funding, El Pasoans convinced a reluctant legislature to expand the College of Mines curricula to include courses in business, education, liberal arts, and science. Enrollment at the College of Mines tripled the following year, with the institution now well on the path toward becoming a regional comprehensive senior college, which it did in 1931. In 1937 the trustee for the Boston-based Frank Cotton estate awarded the university El Paso real estate holdings valued at more than $600,000, which funded the addition of fine arts. In 1953 the Schellenger estate financed the university’s expansion into research. The first M.A. program began in 1940 and the first doctoral program, that in geological sciences, in 1974. In 2020 the university consisted of six colleges (Business Administration, Education, Engineering, Health Sciences, Liberal Arts, Science) and two health science-related schools (Nursing, Pharmacy), as well as a graduate school and extended university. The enrollment first reached 1,000 in 1939, 2,000 in 1947, 5,000 in 1962, 10,000 in 1968, and 15,000 in 1977. As of 2022 more than 24,000 students attended the university. By 2020 the institution had awarded more than 140,000 degrees. The present Paso del Norte campus started with two classroom buildings, a dormitory, a powerhouse, and a mill. Together, this twenty-two-acre building cluster, which still exists, represents the oldest extant public university campus in Texas. 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. In 2018 the university joined UT Austin as a top-tier institution, when it received an R1 comprehensive doctoral research university designation from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The institution became the first former mining school in the nation to achieve this designation. 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.

Since its transformation into a liberal arts college in 1927, the university has generally drawn most of its students from the immediate area. In fall 2019 its enrollment stood at 25,177, of which 84 percent came from El Paso County and 5 percent from Mexico. The ethnic background included 81 percent Hispanic, which previously earned the university the distinction of being a Hispanic-serving institution. As a result of the groundbreaking El Paso Collaborative for Academic Excellence, launched in the 1990s, the El Paso region has the highest percentage of high school graduates attending college in Texas. Since 1982 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. The university’s distance and isolation from the state’s capital allowed it to take a leading role in the cause of desegregation. Following a court ruling in 1955 (White v. Texas Western College), the institution became the first senior public college to admit Blacks at both the undergraduate and graduate level. In 1956 Bernice Bell became the first Black to perform in a leading opera role on a stage at a formerly segregated institution. And in 1957 the college held the first integrated baccalaureate commencement exercises in the state and awarded a bachelor of arts degree to African American Gwendolyn Toppin.

The university has earned a reputation for excellence in its athletic programs. Under Coach Don Haskins, UTEP won the 1966 NCAA basketball championship and was the first team to do so with an all-Black starting lineup. Since 2004 UTEP has been a member of Conference USA. 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. Since 1966 UTEP Miners have won twenty-one NCAA championships (seven cross country, seven indoor track and field, six outdoor track and field, and one basketball). The program also produced several Olympians, including Bob Beamon, whose long jump at the 1968 Mexico City Games remained an Olympic record into the 2020s. 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 51,500-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 40,000-acre 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 2020 the university had an annual research expenditure of $106 million from a variety of funding federal, state, and private funding agencies.

Administrative heads have been Steve H. Worrell (1914–23), John W. Kidd (1923–27), Charles A. Puckett (1927–31; 1934–35), John G. Barry (1931–34), Dossie M. Wiggins (1935–48), Eugene M. Thomas (1948), Wilson H. Elkins (1949–54), Alvin A. Smith (1954–55), Dysart E. Holcomb (1955–58), Joseph R. Smiley (1958–60; 1969–72), Anton H. Berkman (1960), Joseph M. Ray (1960–68), Robert M. Leech (1968–69), Arleigh M. Templeton (1972–80), Haskell M. Monroe, Jr. (1980–1987), Diana S. Natalicio (1987–2019). UTEP’s current president is Heather A. Wilson. As of 2022 the University of Texas at El Paso offered twenty-two doctoral, seventy-four master’s, and seventy-four bachelor’s degree programs. UTEP’s Paso del Norte campus is more than 400 acres.

Francis L. Fugate, Frontier College: Texas Western at El Paso: The First Fifty Years (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1964). Charles H. Martin and Rebecca M. Craver, Diamond Days: An Oral History of the University of Texas at El Paso (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1991). W. H. Timmons, El Paso: A Borderlands History (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1990). PJ Vierra, "'Maybe It Will Turn Out Better Than We Had Expected': The School of Mines and the Legal Foundation of the University of Texas System," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 121 (April 2018). University of Texas Presidents Office Records, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. University of Texas Board of Regents, Minutes, UT System Office. UT El Paso, Center for Institutional Evaluation, Research, and Planning. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Architecture
  • Other Structures
  • Education
  • Public Four-Year Colleges and Universities
Time Periods:
  • Progressive Era
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Texas in the 21st Century
  • Southwest Texas
  • El Paso

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Nancy Hamilton Revised by P. J. Vierra, “University of Texas at El Paso,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 03, 2022,

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June 16, 2022