Learning a Lot at Cossatot
También puedes leer este artículo en español, Aprendiendo Mucho en Cossatot.
Located in De Queen, the University of Arkansas–Cossatot Community College stands out in its service to the Hispanic community.
In recent years, the college has been highlighted as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI). HSIs are part of the White House initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics administered by the U.S. Department of Education.
A 2020-2021 analysis by the Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities (HACU) showed that Cossatot was one of only two Arkansas colleges listed as an HSI and the only public Arkansas college in the ranking.
“We have had at least 25% or more Hispanic students enroll at our college for three consecutive years. That’s how you get the designation,” said Erika Buenrrostro, director of the Center for Student Success at Cossatot. “Southwest Arkansas is composed of at least 50% or more Hispanics within the Latino community — in the community in general.”
The college’s population was 28% Hispanic over the past year.
For its 2013 strategic plan, Cossatot knew an HSI designation was the goal.
“We want to be able to say, ‘Hey, we’re your college. We’re more than half Latino in De Queen.’ So the college made sure we had a bilingual recruiter as part of our strategic plan,” Buenrrostro said.
Cossatot Community College also began hosting a Hispanic night to recognize the achievements of those in the community and to show that anyone can find a community within the college. Hispanic night was open to anyone in the community, from high school students beginning to think about attending college to adults that may have wanted to go back to school or were completing their GED, ESL certification or citizenship.
After the success of Hispanic Night, the college began thinking of the needs of the Latino community.
“We began thinking about foundation scholarships, talking about what are we doing to provide them an opportunity to come [to Cossatot Community College]. So we began what we call Fiesta Fest,” Buenrrostro said.
Before the pandemic, this festival was held in downtown De Queen each year and brought in about 2,000 visitors with its carnival rides and food booths. This event not only allows the community to come together, but it also serves as the base of the foundation scholarships.
“Everything that we raise that day goes toward students that are non-Pell eligible. So that’s one reason to say, ‘Hey, this is part of being an HSI. You belong here, and this is how we’re letting you know that we want you here. This is your college,’” Buenrrostro said.
The college also invites the Mexican Consulate to campus in order to save community members a drive to Little Rock.
Buenrrostro believes that part of what makes Cossatot a good candidate for the HSI designation is the college’s willingness to provide proper training for its employees. Buenrrostro is sent to the HACU conference once a year, no matter where it’s located. This year, she was sent to Mexico, and she’s already scheduled to attend next year’s conference in Spain.
“They [the college] provide the training for their staff that they feel will help us professionally in doing our job,” Buenrrostro said, adding that since being designated an HSI, the college has seen students from all over the country.
“When you do a good deed, it spreads like wildfire,” she said.
Cossatot Community College provides several two-year degrees and certifications, along with adult and continuing education programs and economic and workforce development programs that are open to everyone.