With his entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to maximizing results, Dr. Mark Escamilla leads Del Mar College and the Coastal Bend into the future.
By: Sarah Tindall
Photos by: Dustin Ashcraft
Partnerships are the currency critical to community prosperity, according to Dr. Mark Escamilla, president of Del Mar College. His commitment to collaboration is evident in the vision he empowers, the initiatives he launches and the friends and colleagues who know they can rely on him. “I know I must be able to get along with people,” he said, “and pour my heart and soul into the job to build these relationships.”
Leading an institution with an annual operating budget of over $78 million and employing more than 1,400 full- and part-time faculty and staff, Escamilla says an entrepreneurial spirit is part of his DNA. He understands the need to be motivated to get the job done while being willing to accept the consequences of his actions. According to him, “being an entrepreneur is all about knowing how to balance freedom with responsibility.”
Del Mar College is growing, thanks to Escamilla’s consensus building of college regents, employees and local community leaders. He and his team identified college needs for the Capital Improvement Program (CIP), which was approved by the board. The program addresses critical construction, renovation and demolition needed to deliver instruction during the next 10 years. The CIP proposes a new south side campus on 95 acres purchased last year at Rodd Field Road and Yorktown Boulevard.
Building Regional Partnerships
As president of a community college educating 22,000 students each year in credit, noncredit, contract and continuing education programs, Escamilla is focused on preparing the workforce required for local business and industry. He understands that when business and educational entities collaborate, shared resources maximize the results.
“Working together, we can leverage college resources and business capital to reach our regional potential,” said Escamilla, who is committed to carefully building and maintaining partnerships with local businesses and industries.
“We’re working with TPCO America, currently building a seamless pipe manufacturing facility, to provide customized training to meet their employment needs,” he said. “We’re also reaching out to M&G Chemicals and the Voestalpine steel company to offer customized training programs. I have what I consider a healthy paranoia. I understand the college must grow and adapt to the needs of the community to fulfill our mission.”
Enrollment in corporate training certifications and other fast-track workforce preparation programs at Del Mar College has grown 44 percent in the past three years. “When the college reports enrollment, we’re not just counting the welders and truck drivers we prepare,” Escamilla said. “We’re also educating the entrepreneurs, doctors, teachers and computer technicians needed to sustain our new burgeoning economy.”
Collaborating with Workforce Solutions of the Coastal Bend, Del Mar College has credentialed more than 2,000 graduates of the Career Ready program, a three-day “boot camp” that offers clients unable to find employment the soft skills necessary to prepare a résumé, interview for a job and develop teamwork skills necessary to keep a job once they are employed.
“When Ken Treviño, CEO of Workforce Solutions, explained his Career Ready program, I said, ‘You train them, and we’ll credential them,’” Escamilla said. Career Ready graduates leave the program with a Del Mar College diploma and transcript listing continuing education credit. This credential often inspires them to enroll in credit classes. The college also partners with the Craft Training Center to credential students completing specific welding and other high-demand skills programs.
Del Mar College is also collaborating with KEDT, the local Public Broadcasting System affiliate, to bring their studios to the college’s center for economic development on South Staples Street.
Understanding Educational Importance
Growing up in Corpus Christi, Escamilla worked alongside his father and four siblings, noting that managing several small businesses taught him responsibility. Starting at a young age, he worked in the family construction business and later in his father’s auto repair business. “When dad came out of the Marine Corps in 1958, he worked for H-E-B before opening his own construction company,” Escamilla added. “Once he was an independent business owner, he never looked back.”
A second-generation Del Mar College graduate, Escamilla credits his family with instilling in him teamwork ethics and a sense of responsibility. His father obtained a welding certification at the West Campus. And Escamilla’s own diploma from Del Mar College graces his office wall with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, where he majored in educational administration, with a focus on community college leadership.
“When my family lost their construction business during the oil bust in the mid ‘80s, dad encouraged me to get a college education as a safeguard against another economic downturn,” he said. “I’d hang mufflers on the college’s vehicles in his shop just across the street from the West Campus before taking classes on the East Campus. Who knew that 20 years later I’d have the opportunity to lead this great college?”
If his own story weren’t proof enough, Escamilla cited recent state data as evidence that a Del Mar College education is a good investment. Research confirms that the median income is $57,221 for Del Mar College graduates earning an Associate of Applied Science in a business, occupational or technical major in their first year out of college. “That’s $6,000 per year over the state average,” Escamilla said proudly. “Multiply these salaries by 500 AAS graduates, and the college infuses $28 million return on investment into the community each year.”
Further bolstering his case is a recent analysis by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI) showing that the average graduate with an associate’s degree will earn $10,700 more each year compared to someone with a high-school diploma or equivalent. Furthermore, the analysis states that for every $1 a student invests in a community college in the form of out-of-pocket expenses and deferred wages, the students receive a cumulative $4.80 in higher future wages. Ultimately, the return on investment to students comes to $3.80 for every $1 paid.
Promoting Workforce Philosophy
“I consider everyone who got up this morning, got dressed and went to work as a member of the workforce,” Escamilla said during a recent college town hall meeting. “It’s my job to help raise the educational level of the region to empower that workforce. Providing those opportunities is what partly keeps me up at night.”
Escamilla understands the need to ensure that the economic boom currently sweeping the region translates into systematic growth and economic improvement in the future. “Diversifying the local economy is important,” he said. “As I’m directing key college resources toward preparing the workforce needed right now in the petrochemical, trucking and manufacturing industries, I’m also focused on opening college credit opportunities to our high-school students to encourage them to complete two- and four-year degrees.”
Fostering the Future
Del Mar College’s dual credit program is a priority for Escamilla. A recent “listening tour” he took to meet with school district superintendents and students around the region led to launching the “Del Mar College dual credit promise.” Now high-school students from Aransas to Kleberg Counties can take college-level classes for just $99.99 per three semester-hour course – reduced from $171.99 – while earning college credits toward certificates, associate’s degrees and beyond.
“Many of our students represent the first generation in their families to attend college,” Escamilla said. “We need to build a relationship with students and their families to encourage them to pursue higher education. We need to change the mindset that college isn’t affordable.” He recently authorized publishing a parents’ guide for enrolling in Del Mar College, printed in English and Spanish. He also hosted conversations with middle-school parents to familiarize them with processes critical to a college-going culture.
“Students and families need to understand the college admissions, financial aid and registration processes to successfully transition into higher education,” he noted. “I’m committed to raising the educational attainment level throughout the Coastal Bend. It’s the right thing to do.”
Unlike some other advanced placement options for high-school students, once a student makes a passing grade in a dual credit course, he or she has earned a permanent college credit that appears on a Del Mar College transcript and transfers to other institutions.
Just across the street from Escamilla’s dad’s shop on Morgan Avenue, a newer example of educational partnerships recently completed first-year operations. The Harold T. Branch Career and Technical Academy of the Corpus Christi Independent School District offers students a pathway to complete a Del Mar College certificate or associate’s degree while finishing their high school diploma.
“Imagine being an 18-year-old high-school graduate who already has an Associate of Applied Science degree and workforce skills in aviation maintenance, fire science or petroleum processing technology in today’s economy.”
Keeping Education Attainable
According to Escamilla, “maintaining affordability is part of Del Mar College’s mission and one of the key underpinnings of the American community college movement.” In that regard, students living in the Del Mar College District pay less than $1,200 per semester in tuition and fees for a full course load. That’s one-third to one-fourth the cost of the same course load at a state university.
“Offering students an affordable option for the first two years of a bachelor’s degree can make the difference throughout students’ lifetimes,” Escamilla added. “We offer smaller classes – an average of about 22 students. And our academic rigor is recognized nationwide. I often hear it said, ‘If you can make it at Del Mar College, you can make it anywhere.’ That was the case for me in the 1980s, and it’s still true today.”
Escamilla sees to it that employees at Del Mar College are afforded educational opportunities, too. He recently made arrangements for his doctoral program mentor, Dr. John Roueche with the Roueche Graduate Center at the National American University, to work with college faculty and staff interested in earning a doctorate in educational leadership.
“As a product of the community college experience,” Escamilla said, “I’m driven to go out every day and create more opportunities and educational accessibility for the local community.”
While he spearheads numerous projects designed to improve the quality of life in the Coastal Bend, Escamilla also manages to stay focused on his family partnership. He and his wife, Jodi, maintain a busy schedule juggling parenting duties for their sons, Benjamin and Lucas. Coaching ball teams, serving as a school monitor and staying connected with his entire family are top priorities for this president. He cares about his own family and commits his professional career to improving educational opportunities for families across the Texas Coastal Bend.
For more information on Dr. Mark Escamilla or Del Mar College, call 361-698-1200 or visit www.delmar.edu