Latinos have achieved a significant milestone – for the first time ever, young Latinos make up a record 16.5 percent of U.S. college students, matching Hispanics‘ overall population representation (16.5 percent). While there is still ways to go – Latino college rates should be at 20 percent to match the percentage of 18- to 24-year-old Hispanics – the growing numbers of Latinos in colleges is a significant achievement.
“These milestones signal something favorable is occurring,” says Richard Fry, Senior Research Associate at Pew Hispanic, who authored the new report, along with Pew Hispanic Associate Director, Mark Hugo López.
“We have never seen these numbers; in 2011, three-quarters of young Latinos finished high school or obtained a GED,” adds Fry.
At more than 2 million, 18- to 24-year-old Latinos are now the largest minority group on college campuses, making up a record 16.5 percent of all college enrollments, according to the new report. In fact, in one year, from 2010 to 2011, Latino enrollment at four-year colleges increased 20 percent, from 1 million to 1.2 million. Hispanic college enrollment growth accounts for three-quarters of all college enrollment in 2011.
Part of the rise in enrollment is due to high school completion among Hispanics is at a new high. Among Latino high school students, Pew Hispanic found 76.3 percent of all Latinos between the ages of 18 and 24 obtained a high school diploma or GED degree in 2011, up from 72.8 percent in 2010.
And of these growing numbers of Latino high school graduates, almost half (46 percent) are enrolled in either two- or four-year colleges, which is a record share. Among whites, the number is 51 percent, and among blacks, the number is 45 percent.
Why are Latinos graduating in larger numbers? Pew Hispanic’s Richard Fry believes part of the reason might be a tougher job market. “Traditionally there are always students in all racial and ethnic groups who are ‘on the fence’ between just going to work instead of pursuing higher education,” explains Fry. When there are fewer jobs, students might choose college, which is good news when it comes to college completion rates, Fry says.
The increase is being seen around the country, but especially in Latino-heavy states such as Florida. Seminole State College, for example, increased its Latino enrollment by 59 percent in the school year between 2007 and 2011, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Another important reason for increased Latino enrollment, says Dr. Antonio Flores, president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), is the investment made by the government over the last fifteen years in more funds for Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs). ”In the 1996-97 fiscal year, total amount to HSIs was 12 million per year; today, it is over 200 million dollars per year,” explains Flores.
“Modest investments can yield tremendous results,” Flores adds.
More Latinos in our nation’s colleges have resulted in new highs for Latino college graduates. In 2010, Latinos received a record 140,000 bachelor’s degrees and 112,000 associate’s degrees, according to 2012 Department of Education numbers. This means Hispanics received 13.2 percent of 2010 associate’s degres and 8.5 percent of 2010 bachelor’s degrees.
Latino college degrees, however, are still low compared to other groups. 71 percent of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2010 went to non-Hispanic whites, 10 percent to blacks and 7 percent to Hispanics. Among associate’s degrees in 2010, two-thirds went to non-Hispanic whites, and 13 percent went to Latinos as well as blacks.
Latino educators such as Dr. Flores worry that budget problems in states such as California, with a large number of young Latinos, is limiting the amount of students at the state’s public institutions. “Congress and the federal government have to be mindful that investments which have been made in the past have to be increased significantly; otherwise we will remain behind the curve – and Latinos are the main source of new workers in this country,” Flores explains.
Latinos are an increasing share of our nation’s schoolchildren
And one-in-four (24.7 percent) elementary school students in our nation’s public schools are Hispanic. In fact, Latinos now comprise almost 24 percent of all pre-K through 12th grade students.
But that is just current numbers. By 2036, the U.S. Census projects Latinos will make up one-third of all the nation’s children ages 3 to 17.
HACU’s Dr. Flores says these growing numbers of Hispanics point to the need to invest in the nation’s schools and universities.
“In my view, this investment is a down-payment,” says Flores. ”The future of this nation hangs in the balance when it comes to higher education success,” he points out. ”This is not about Latinos doing better – this is about Latinos as the foundation of this country’s well-being.”