‘My education will not end:’ Hispanic Student on Higher Education Experience in Central Nebraska

22 Jun 2022, 5 a.m. ·

Arrendondo helps student enroll in classes and prepare other documents.
Arrendondo (right) helps an incoming student set up his class schedule. (Photo by Aaron Bonderson, Nebraska Public Media and Report for America)

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It’s a warm, June afternoon at the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK). Construction crews buzz into summer renovations.

On the otherwise quiet campus, Jose Arredondo helps undergraduates enroll in classes. Jose, and other university workers, use the entire month to support waves of scholars eager to learn more about their new school.

Arredondo is a senior English Education major from Lexington, Nebraska. He plans to teach grades seven through 12 after graduating next year.

‘You could do more’

He’s one of the 596 Hispanic students at UNK, according to full-time undergraduate enrollment for the 2021-2022 school year.

Arredondo is just one example of the growing Hispanic population in Nebraska seeking higher education. In the 2010 U.S. census, 9.2% of Nebraskans identified as Hispanic or Latino. The 2020 census shows 12% of Nebraskans identifying with Hispanic or Latino origin.

At first, Arredondo wasn’t sure if he wanted to pursue more education beyond getting an Associates’ degree from Central Community College in Lexington.

“I really didn’t want to because like I said, I was a very shy person,” Arredondo said. “I honestly didn’t think I could make it.”

Influence from back home would guide his decision making.

“I remember back to what my counselor and some of my favorite teachers told me, ‘you could do more,’” Arredondo said. “That’s what motivated me even more to come to UNK and get a bachelor’s degree.”

Student Union at UNK from the outside. The building has two levels with a UNK flag in the middle of the second floor.
UNK's Student Union. (Photo by Aaron Bonderson, Nebraska Public Media and Report for America)

Hobbies and Campus Life

The soon-to-be teacher adjusted after arriving on Kearney’s campus. What helped him jump out of his shell included cross training (running, swimming, biking, lifting) and writing.

“All that creative writing stuff I’ve done here,” Arredondo said. “Every single bit of that has just been amazing. It’s just been really interesting to learn, especially with screenwriting.”

UNK’s film club allows Arredondo to experiment as a playwright. The senior enjoys poetry, too. With these skills, he hopes to teach speech and theater in the future.

He recommends cross training to anyone of any age. It helps him manage the stresses of college and the pandemic.

Like many students, Arredondo said covering college expenses has been tough.

“Tuition was definitely a challenge,” he said…”I get financial aid, but considering we're at the university level it's definitely a little more expensive.”

Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) – Goals and Benefits

Central Community College

Arredondo went through community college while planning for the future and saving money on tuition. He studied at one of the numerous Central Community College (Central CC or CCC) campuses around the state.

Central CC is the only Nebraska representative in the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU). HACU advocates for grant and scholarship money for its 329 member schools.

Michelle Lubken, co-lead of the Multicultural Resource Center at Central CC, said the school gets involved with the association each year.

“We take students to HACU,” Lubken said. “Our college president is very supportive. He hopes that we send multiple students actually this year to San Diego–to the conference.”

HACU schools share ideas about best practices for making education accessible to Hispanic students at the conference.

The schools can also be referred to as Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI’s) by the federal Department of Education. Once a school’s enrollment reaches 25% Hispanic students of its full-time undergraduates, it can apply to become a HSI.

Fountain sprays water in the middle of UNK's campus with dorm buildings in the background.
Fountain in the middle of UNK's campus. (Photo by Aaron Bonderson, Nebraska Public Media and Report for America)

University of Nebraska at Kearney

UNK’s undergraduate census from last fall indicates 13% of its full-time students identifying as Latino or Hispanic. The school enrolls 226 more Hispanic students now than ten years ago.

Kelly Bartling, Vice Chancellor for Enrollment, said the school could get HSI recognition in 20-30 years, with more concerted efforts.

“What we're looking at is if we can be more intentional with our marketing and recruiting and build on some of the successful programs that we've already put into place,” Bartling said.

Bartling said the school plans to get mobile with its recruiting and awareness efforts. It wants to offer more events that will interest Hispanic people around the state.

She said there are many reasons why UNK wants to be an HSI.

“We need to look at the population that we're serving, and our student body needs to match the population that we serve,” Bartling said. “When you look at the benefits that come from being a Hispanic Serving Institution, they're tremendous. We would qualify for federal aid that we aren't qualified for now. There are resources and opportunities that become available to our students and ourselves as an institution.”

Many Hispanic students at the school come from Dawson County (includes Lexington), Hall County (Grand Island), and Buffalo County (Kearney). The highest populated county in the state for Hispanic people is Douglas County (Omaha). Most metro area students attend other schools, but UNK is leading the way to higher education opportunities in central Nebraska.

Never Stop Learning

Arredondo said he could see himself teaching in Lexington after he graduates in May 2023. He said starting at a small school could be a good launching point for his ambitious goals.

“I even want to continue my education,” Arredondo said. “I want to look into my masters. I want that completed and get my PhD, in whatever I decide to do.”

He said he could see himself returning to the places that shaped him.

“Eventually I want to go into the professor level and I want to go back either here (UNK) or at CCC and teach over there,” Arredondo said.

Arredondo endures the chaotic life that is being a college student during a pandemic. Nevertheless, he said the end of college next spring doesn’t mean the end of learning for him.

“My whole undergrad has been a roller coaster and with a lot of ups and downs, but one thing's for sure is that my education will not end,” Arredondo said.