Press Release: El Paso Addresses the 61st Hour Challenge, Students Earn Over 1,000 Bachelor Degrees and Counting

Published mar. 21, 2016

Jobs for the Future and Greater Texas Foundation's new report explores successful early college partnership with The University of Texas El Paso

El Paso, TX—(March 21, 2016)—Jobs for the Future (JFF) and Greater Texas Foundation (GTF) release a new report today that provides a national blueprint for successful development of early college programs that move large numbers of young people through high school to a bachelor’s degree, Addressing the 61st Hour Challenge: Collaborating in El Paso to Create Seamless Pathways from High School to College.

Texas has been at the forefront of the early college movement since early college—which integrates college courses with high school requirements, along with student supports—began more than a decade ago. Because of the many early colleges and the positive policy environment in Texas, more and more Texas students complete their associate’s degrees well before graduation from high school, often starting college with junior standing. As these students progressed, GTF became aware that some early college students were accumulating more than the 60 credits required for an associate’s degree. A 61st credit holds little to no advantage over the 60th credit and yet eats up students’ time and money. And often, students who transfer to a four-year institution lose any of the credits beyond the 60th in the move. The new report labels these challenges the 61st Hour® problem.

In efforts to resolve the 61st Hour issue, high school and higher education institutions in El Paso came together to implement a truly seamless system that creates an efficient path for students from 9th grade through the bachelor’s degree. Dr. David Conley, a national leader in defining and promoting college and career readiness, remarks, “This report presents a compelling case study of what it takes to align expectations between high school and college so that students can make a seamless transition. Early college is one powerful way to help ensure that more students go directly from high school to college prepared to succeed, and this brief shows how one university has worked with early college schools to maximize student success.”

“The early college movement is incredibly promising for getting more traditionally underserved students postsecondary credentials,” says Dr. Wynn Rosser, president & CEO of GTF. “Early college graduates are earning college credits in high school that provide a major head start and can significantly accelerate time to degree at their four-year institutions. By forming close partnerships, El Paso has figured out a way to advance an already innovative model so students can go on to earn bachelor’s degrees and beyond.”

The success and collaboration of The University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso Community College (EPCC), and the partner El Paso feeder early college high schools hold lessons for early college advocates and leaders. “While other parts of the state and nation have more early college high schools, no part of the state or nation has more successful early college high schools. 73 percent of the students in EPCC’s 9 early college schools receive their associate’s degree prior to graduating from high school, compared to the national average of 30 percent,” says Dr. William Serrata, president of EPCC. 

Outcomes like these are particularly notable given that early college high schools traditionally serve first-generation college goers, students of color, and students from low-income families. At Mission Early College High School in El Paso, about 80 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, first generation, and at risk of not completing high school. English language learners or those with limited proficiency make up 50 percent of the population. 

The remarkable opportunities to accelerate and transition smoothly into higher education, with strong support from their teachers and school, are not lost on students. El Paso early college student Jordan Cedillo says, “I feel like there should be more early college high schools around the nation. It’s such a great opportunity to get ahead—especially for students who don’t know what they want to do. There’s just enough general education to help them choose a pathway.”

“As someone who helped lead the national early college high school initiative from Jobs for the Future beginning in 2002, I was moved and inspired by what I learned and experienced in El Paso. This is a story to inspire a much broader audience of educators, community leaders, families and students to action,” says Nancy Hoffman, vice president for program and talent development at JFF and author of the report. “The success in El Paso shows that early college programs work and that they can be scaled and replicated.”

This report is being released in conjunction with Early College High School Week, an annual celebration of early college success nationwide. Follow news about the week at #ECweek16. The report is available at

About Jobs for the Future

Jobs for the Future is a national nonprofit that works to ensure educational and economic opportunity for all. We develop innovative career pathways, educational resources, and public policies that increase college readiness and career success, and build a more highly skilled workforce. With over 30 years of experience, JFF is the national leader in bridging education and work to increase mobility and strengthen our economy.

About Greater Texas Foundation

Greater Texas Foundation supports efforts to ensure all Texas students are prepared for, have access to, persist in, and complete a postsecondary education. We put particular focus on helping underserved and disadvantaged populations. We pursue our mission by forming partnerships, supporting research, sharing knowledge, and making grants. Since its inception in 2001, GTF has approved more than $45 million in grants to support Texas students.