Our Story

El Paso student in hallway

About the HPU El Paso Center

Howard Payne University (HPU), based in Brownwood for more than 130 years (established 1889), has maintained an extension center in El Paso since 1991. HPU’s El Paso Center has graduated more than 265 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. More recently, the El Paso Center has broadened its course offerings to include additional degrees in business administration, Christian studies, criminal justice, and general studies. We also offer a Master of Business Administration degree, a Master of Education in Sport and Wellness Leadership degree, a Master of Arts in Theology and Ministry degree, and dual credit opportunities as well.

The El Paso Center holds three academic sessions per year. Fall and spring sessions/semesters are 16 weeks in length, with onsite classes most often meeting only once per week. Onsite classes are normally offered weekdays in the evenings or Saturday mornings. Online classes are also available.  Lastly, 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 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 fortuitous arrangement occurred when IBBI partnered with Howard Payne University of Brownwood in 1991. By July 1992, it was agreed to name Dr. Glenn Saul as the first HPU El Paso Center director. Dr. Saul brought with him several years of experience in the pastorate and in teaching, primarily from 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. 

Initially, HPU’s El Paso Center offered only a Bachelor of Arts degree with a specialization in either Bible or practical theology. At that early time of establishment as well, Bertha Valle was hired as the office administrator.  She has faithfully worked for the El Paso Center since 1995. Since being hired more than 20 years ago, she has also assumed financial aid coordinator duties for the center. She plans to retire in December 2020. 

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 El Paso Center’s second director. Ditmore was a retired missionary from the formerly-named 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 had previously been hired by Steve Ditmore to teach Christian studies courses, was appointed as the third El Paso Center director. During her six-year tenure, great changes occurred at the center. Importantly, the El Paso Center was approved to handle financial aid for students.  Moreover, additional degrees were offered, to include the Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences, which allowed students to transfer a range of credits from other colleges and technical-vocational accredited schools and assessed credit as well. The newly-offered undergraduate degrees in criminal justice, business management, health care administration, 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 fourth 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 promoted Mr. Robert Hedicke to full-time criminal justice professor. Dr. Stephen Kovach was then later promoted to full-time Christian studies and criminal justice professor in 2010. One year later, Dr. Carmen Santana-Melgoza was hired as full-time business administration professor. Dr. Kovach continues to teach for the center, while Dr. Santana-Melgoza announced her retirement, taking effect in 2017. 

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, centrally-located center, leasing space from First Baptist Church of El Paso, 2) an onsite admission counselor position was established (hires-to-date: Erick Jimenez (’13-’15), Matthew Rutkowski (’16-’20), and Susan Zaragoza (’20-current), 3) the Master of Business Administration was approved to be offered at the El Paso Center in 2014, which has since spurred additional graduate degree offerings and 4) seeing the need to have an onsite director, Dr. Adrian Gil was hired in 2014 as the new and sixth El Paso Center Director. Dr. Gil has since been promoted to Assistant Vice President for the El Paso Center as of 2020. Dr. Gil’s extensive experience in the business and education fields has helped develop a new vision for the now expanding HPU El Paso Center. 

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