Making the most of your college experience | Local

It’s inching towards that time of year when school starts and the I-10 at West El Paso challenges Los Angeles and Interstate 405 for the title of world’s biggest parking lot. But even as back-to-schoolers begrudge the stop-and-go traffic, it is also the time of year when dreams, aspirations and ambitions are re-sharpened.

If you’re in college, you might be counting the calories of that morning latte and your hard-earned pennies as you try to figure out what is included in tuition, what is covered through financial aid and what is coming out of your own pocket – or uh, your parent’s debit card.

Ah, yes. Upward mobility comes at a cost of one credit hour at a time.

Tuition and university fees might finally be coming down by some estimates, but their costs are no chump change. According to a recent NPR article, tuition grew at more than double the rate of inflation from 1990 through 2016.

So as college students embark on a costly journey, doesn’t it make sense to take advantage of all the things covered by fees and tuition?

In the case of fees and tuition at the University of Texas at El Paso, Catie McCorry-Andalis, dean of students and associate vice president for Student Life, said the university offers plenty of resources for all students.

“At our campus, we take quite seriously that your education is not only what happens in the classroom; it’s what happens outside of it,” McCorry-Andalis said. “It’s also about our students’ ability to access opportunities that are not available anywhere else.”

McCorry-Andalis said tuition fees cover events such as the Minerpalooza pep rally, music shows and guest speakers. The dean of students also lauded UTEP’s efforts to offer tuition services to all –freshmen, graduate, undergraduate and returning students.

While rates fluctuate depending on a major, UTEP students pay approximately $376.11 per credit hour. The fees are separate from tuition. Those cover things like a library fee, recreation fee and health care fee.

Best Value Schools ranked UTEP number 8 out of 100 most affordable universities in America. The university drew praise for its affordability and commitment of $100 million every year to support advanced research and independent studies.

“I paid for my first year out of pocket, so I made sure to know what I was paying for,” said former UTEP miner Nicole Chavez. Now working at CNN in Atlanta, Chavez said part of the challenges of taking advantage of these services is that UTEP is a commuter school.

“I felt like not a lot of students spent time at the campus, especially after 4 p.m.” Chavez said. “I feel like if I had lived on campus, I would have taken full advantage of the services.”

Danya Perez-Hernandez agreed that commuting to and from UTEP made it difficult to enjoy all that the school had to offer, but added that having health benefits and internship opportunities at the campus allowed her to quit her job during her last year of school to focus on finding internships related to her major. Perez-Hernandez works for The Monitor in McAllen.

“I had to quit my job and rely on my work through UTEP,” she said. “At that point, I was aware of the services that were provided. It felt good to know that I could count on the extra support from the university.”

El Paso Community College is also not far behind when it comes to offering resources, said associate vice president of Instruction and Student Success, Dr. Julie Penley.

Part of the tuition fees at EPCC include things such as tutoring, offering office hours and the Pretesting Retesting Educational Program (PREP), which helps improve students’ placement scores.

Penley added that one of the things students need to improve on is getting over the fear of using resources available at places such as EPCC and UTEP. She said these resources are often taboo because students are often afraid or ashamed to ask for help.

“Nobody wants to appear vulnerable,” Penley said. “They are looking around and they may feel like they are the only ones who don’t get it. They are hesitant to ask questions in class, let alone to go outside of class, be proactive and seek services. Maybe this is something faculty can do in their classes, letting students know that there’s no such thing as a silly question. You are smart to ask questions and reach out for help.”