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Latino high school grads surpass whites in college enrollment rate

A record number of Hispanic high school students are college-bound. A new report says the rate (69 percent) of Hispanic high school graduates from the class of 2012  enrolled in college in fall is higher than the rate (67 percent) of their white counterparts.  According to the Pew Hispanic Research Center analysis from the Census Bureau, seven out of ten Latino high school students enrolled in college in 2012.

“Since 1980 Hispanics were less likely to pursue college compared to whites, until this year, where it seems the gap has narrowed, and the number of Hispanic high school students who are college-bound is the highest it’s been in 30 years,” explains Richard Fry, the lead author of the Pew Hispanic Research Center study.

The study points to the recession in 2008 as a possible cause for the rise in Latino college enrollment.  Simply put, Hispanic teens enrolled in college because of the bleak job market, says the report.  Since 2007, unemployment among Latinos ages 16-24 has gone up 7 percent, compared to 5 percent among white youth. Fry says white high school students  lived in areas where jobs were possibly more readily available, and chose getting a job over college. This could explain why their college-bound rates in 2012 declined slightly.

Another reason why Hispanics are increasingly enrolling in college, says Fry, is because of the importance that Latino families place on a college education.

“The wider Latino community understands the importance of education for the future of  education when it comes to advancing future generations,” explains Fry, pointing to recent studies by the Pew Hispanic Center showing 88 percent of Latinos agree that a college degree is necessary to get ahead in life.

The result of the study is part of a larger positive trend when it comes to Hispanics and education.  The high school dropout rate for Hispanic 16-24 year-olds was at 14 percent in 2011, half the level of 2000 at 28 percent. Despite these gains, Hispanic students are still lagging behind other groups when it comes to college completion.  Fifty-six percent of Hispanics enroll in a four-year college, compared to 72 percent of whites, for example.

The one issue Fry says we should not ignore is that Hispanics and whites are not going to the same kinds of colleges.  “Latino high school graduates are more likely to go to community colleges, and whites to private four-year colleges,” adds Fry.

An issue still remains; while more Hispanics are college-bound, the completion rates are still lagging compared to other groups, meaning it is not enough to attend college if Hispanic students are not graduating from college.

“This is a good indicator, but there is still an educational gap,” concludes Fry.

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