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South Arkansas Community College (SouthArk)

South Arkansas Community College, commonly referred to as SouthArk, is a comprehensive two-year public college based in El Dorado (Union County). The college has 1,789 students enrolled as of September 2011 and offers an extensive program of transfer credit courses, allied health degrees, associates degree and technical certificate programs, computer technology programs, skilled trades courses, GED courses, and non-credit continuing education programs for the general public.

The college opened in 1992 when Governor Bill Clinton signed legislation merging the El Dorado branch of Southern Arkansas University (SAU) and Oil Belt Technical College into one college: South Arkansas Community College. Oil Belt had opened as Oil Belt Vocational-Technical School in 1967 just east of El Dorado, and it now serves as the East Campus of SouthArk. Southern Arkansas College–El Dorado Branch (the West Campus) opened in 1975 as an extension campus of what was then Southern State College in Magnolia (Columbia County). The current site of the West Campus has been used continuously for educational purposes in El Dorado since 1858. The administrative facilities for SouthArk are in what is also called the Junior College Building, constructed as a high school in 1905 and once the home of the now defunct El Dorado Junior College (1928–1942); it is on the National Register of Historic Places. The gymnasium facility was built in 1940 as a Works Progress Administration project.

When the two colleges merged, the new college embarked on a renovation and building program. A new library was completed in 1996, followed by completion of the Computer Technology Building in 2000, a Workforce Development Building on the East Campus in 2002, and a satellite campus also added in 2003 in Warren (Bradley County). The Ben Whitfield Classroom Building on the West Campus, named for the college’s first president, was completed in 1988.

The college had grown from 1,004 students in the fall 1995 semester to 1,380 students by the fall of 2005. By 2007, the college offered associate degrees in teaching, criminal justice, graphic arts and advertising, early childhood education, and general business administration, as well as a variety of skilled trade programs and an extensive online education program.

The Betty Owen School of Practical Nursing has operated at the college since the 1960s, starting with a class of twenty graduating licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and since named for one of the original instructors of the program. By 2006, the sixtieth LPN class of the Owen School had forty-seven graduates at both the West Campus and the Warren Campus. A wide variety of other medical programs have steadily been added: physical therapy, occupational therapy, a registered nurse degree program, radiologic technology, health information technology, medical coding and medical transcription, and medical laboratory technology. A surgical technology program was added in 2006. Plans are currently under way for a multi-million dollar Allied Health building to house the growing medical programs for SouthArk.

SouthArk operates the South Arkansas Arboretum, a thirteen-acre state park in El Dorado. The college also sponsors three publications: Writer’s Ink, a creative writing magazine for local high school students; Between the Lines, a literary journal for creative writers across the region; and the South Arkansas Historical Journal.

SouthArk is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and is affiliated with the Arkansas Department of Higher Education and the Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges. The college’s service area includes Ashley, Bradley, Calhoun, Chicot, and Union counties, though many students also come from nearby Columbia and Ouachita counties.

For additional information:
Ballard, Phil. “100 Years of Public Service: The 1905 Junior College Building in El Dorado, Arkansas.” South Arkansas Historical Journal 5 (Fall 2005): 21–25. Online at: http://www.southark.edu/class-information/dynpage.asp?pageID=1916 (accessed November 30, 2007).

South Arkansas Community College. http://www.southark.edu (accessed November 30, 2007).

Whitfield, Ben. “El Dorado’s Two-Year Colleges.” South Arkansas Historical Journal 1 (Fall 2001): 4–14. Online at: http://www.southark.edu/class-information/dynpage.asp?pageID=1915 (accessed November 30, 2007).

Kenneth Bridges
South Arkansas Community College

Last Updated 11/28/2011

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