Howard Payne University, based in Brownwood for more than 125 years (established 1889), has maintained an extension center in El Paso since 1991. HPU’s El Paso Center has graduated more than 200 students since its establishment.
We are an affordable, private, not-for-profit, Christian university accredited by SACS (the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools). The El Paso Center began as an extension of the School of Christian Studies to offer academic course work and training for those preparing for vocational ministry. In the past several years, the El Paso Center has broadened its course offerings to include a business administration major, criminal justice major, and general studies major as well. Moreover, we now also offer a Master of Business Administration degree, a Master of Education in Instructional Leadership degree, and a Master of Science in Criminal Justice degree.
The El Paso Center holds three academic sessions per year. Fall and spring semesters are 16 weeks in length, with each class most often meeting only once per week. Classes are normally offered weekdays in the evenings or Saturday mornings. The summer session varies from 4 to 8 weeks in length depending upon the course.
History of HPU’s El Paso Center
The history of HPU’s El Paso Center begins with a partnership between Howard Payne University in Brownwood and the International Baptist Bible Institute (IBBI). IBBI was founded in El Paso in January 1973, offering basic Bible training courses at the certificate and diploma level. IBBI was established in order to fulfill a big need for theological education in the area and was sponsored by several Christian men in the city and Immanuel Baptist Church.
Years later, the IBBI Board of Trustees realized that accredited higher education was the next step to continue training those who were called into ministry. After brief partnerships with other universities, a happy arrangement occurred when IBBI partnered with Howard Payne University of Brownwood in 1991. It was agreed to call Dr. D. Glenn Saul as the HPU El Paso Center director in July 1992. Dr. Saul brought with him several years of experience in the pastorate and in teaching, mainly at the Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. As part of the arrangement, HPU agreed to accept credits from IBBI for certain Bible courses if a student wanted to pursue a degree with HPU.
In the beginning, HPU’s El Paso Center offered only a Bachelor of Arts degree with a specialization in either Bible or practical theology. Bertha Valle was hired as the office manager. She has faithfully worked for the El Paso Center since 1995.
In May 1996 HPU’s El Paso Center had its first graduate, Frida Robles, who earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Christian studies. A few months later, Steve L. Ditmore was appointed as the new El Paso Center director. Ditmore was a retired missionary from the formerly called Foreign Mission Board. During his one-year tenure, a representative from the U.S. Veteran’s Education Department visited the El Paso Center and approved the center to handle education benefits for qualified veterans, which helped the center to grow among the military population.
In 1998, Andrea McKenzie, who was previously hired by Steve Ditmore to teach Christian studies courses, was appointed as the new El Paso Center director. During her six-year tenure, great changes happened at the center. The El Paso Center was approved to handle financial aid for students. More degrees were implemented, including the Bachelor of Applied Arts and Science, which allowed students to transfer more credits from other colleges, technical-vocational accredited schools and other assessed credit. The new degrees in criminal justice, business management, health care administration and the associate degree in ministry and certificate in ministry attracted so many students that, when McKenzie left in 2004, there were 134 students enrolled.
Later in 2004, Dr. Dag Sewell was appointed as the new director of the El Paso Center. He had many years of experience in pastoral ministry and teaching. During Dr. Sewell’s seven-year tenure, he hired Dr. Stephen Kovach as the full time criminal justice professor and Dr. Carmen Santana-Melgoza as the full time business professor. Dr. Kovach, also credentialed to teach Christian studies, now teaches primarily in that area. Dr. Santana-Melgoza announced her retirement, taking effect after the spring 2017 semester.
Dr. Sewell’s connections with the El Paso Baptist Association and the local Baptist churches helped to improve the awareness of the center. In 2012, Dr. Dale Meinecke came on board as assistant vice president for external programs and church relations, which included overseeing the extension center.
For the next two years, Dr. Meinecke led the center from a distance, while at the same time opening HPU’s new extension center in New Braunfels. Dr. Robert Bicknell, dean of extended education and accreditation liaison, also provided oversight of the center.
Four strategic developments occurred at this time: 1) the center moved out of the IBBI/Immanuel Baptist Church building and into a brand new center centrally located on the second floor of First Baptist Church in El Paso, 2) an onsite admission counselor was hired, 3) the Master of Business Administration was approved to be offered at the El Paso Center, and 4) seeing the need to have an onsite director, Dr. Adrian Gil was hired in 2014 as the new El Paso Center Director. Dr. Gil’s extensive experience in the business and education fields has helped develop a new vision for the now expanding center. Furthermore, Matt Rutkowski rejoined the HPU El Paso team as admission counselor, creating even more energy and excitement for growth.