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Hispanic-Serving Institution

The Selden campus of Suffolk County Community College. File photo

Suffolk County Community College was recently named a Hispanic-Serving Institution, also known as HSI, the first school in the county to receive this designation.

Christina Vargas, Suffolk County Community College’s chief
diversity officer, discusses the school’s designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution. Photo from Suffolk County Community College

The U.S. Department of Education defines HSIs as institutions of higher learning that accommodate a student enrollment of at least 25% Hispanic full-time equivalent students. This distinction is a reflection of the evolving cultural makeup of the area.

“We’re fortunate that we now have a proportional number of students that are here and that we serve,” said Christina Vargas, chief diversity officer and Title IX coordinator of SCCC, in a phone interview. “It makes me very proud and it makes the college really proud that we serve the needs of the community.” 

The most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that the Hispanic population accounts for approximately 20% of all Suffolk County residents. That figure is up 2% since 2013.

“When you think about what the census has told us about the changing demographics of Long Island, we’ve kind of known this is coming,” Vargas said. “This is where we are. We have a diverse, rich set of cultures represented at our college.”

Vargas believes that higher education is the proper venue for Hispanic communities to strengthen their understanding of their own cultural background. She says that SCCC maintains close touch with these communities through its partnerships throughout the county.

“Our president recently met with leaders of the Brentwood community, including the school districts of Brentwood and Central Islip and the Brentwood library,” she said. “This will give us more energy and direction to make sure those partnerships continue to be strong and that we understand what our high schools need, what our community members need and that we are in tune with the issues of the community.”

Two-year colleges such as SCCC accommodate some of the largest student populations and offer a stepping-stone for academic and professional advancement. Additionally, the HSI designation reflects a modern approach to higher education, one which highlights foreign language skills and cultural awareness as critical for meeting the demands of the 21st-century job market.

“When it comes to the job market, for example, I can’t imagine that bilingual skills won’t be on the top of people’s lists,” Vargas said. “We want to be inclusive and respectful and helpful to all individuals that we serve.”

Vargas said this HSI designation marks the next chapter for SCCC in its mission to support those populations. According to her, students no longer have to
leave Suffolk County to receive a quality two-year education.

“To be able to say that right in your backyard, at the college that you choose to go to, we can be there for you to meet your educational goals and dreams, I think it means a lot to us,” she said. “That’s what we’re here for. We’re here to transform lives and provide real educational goals for anybody that comes to our doorstep. We’re here to help them grow in every way possible.”

SCCC also has been named one of the nation’s Top 10 2-Year Schools by Region 2019-2020 by Hispanic Outlook on Education Magazine. In addition, it is the top SUNY institution for Hispanic students in the rankings released by the magazine.