Latino College Enrollment Reaches Record High

PHOTO: Jorge Castillo (center) credits his family for his enrollment at Yale University.

Last year, more Latinos enrolled in college in the U.S. than ever before, making Hispanic students the largest minority group on university campuses across the country for the first time in history, according to a new study by the Pew Hispanic Center.

More than 2 million Latinos ages 18 to 24 were enrolled in college last year, representing 16.5% of all college students in that age group, according to the study.  Furthermore, for the first time, one in four students enrolled in a 2-year college last year was Latino, and nearly one fourth of pre-K through 12th grade students last year were Latino.

Recent Latino population growth explains some of the this increase, says Mark Hugo Lopez, the Associate Director of the Pew Hispanic Center -- but not all of it. Lopez insists that even when controlled for population growth, Latino enrollment has increased faster than non-Latino enrollment nationally.

However, Stella Marie Flores, an Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt University who teaches courses in college access policy, says the trend might not be consistent from state to state. In her own research, one state in particular bucks the trend.

“In Texas, from 1997 to 2008,  we found that Hispanic enrollment has increased generally. But, when we control for other factors -- such as economic status and high school context--  it’s actually gone down in recent years,” Flores said.  “The cautionary tale here, is to not confuse demography for success.”

Flores also noted that Latinos are more likely to attend 2-year colleges than non-Latinos, because they are cheaper, “plentiful,” and they have less stringent enrollment requirements that include more opportunities for remediation.

Hispanics also face some additional barriers to college graduation. Nine-in-ten young Latino adults say that a college education is “important for success in life”, but only about half of those individuals say that they themselves plan to get a college degree, according to another survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center in 2009. The main restraints, the center found, were financial limitations and the need to support their families. Furthermore, high school and college age Latinos have higher drop out rates than blacks, whites and Asians, according to a 2010 report from the National Center for Education Statistics.

But Lopez of the Pew Hispanic Center, remains hopeful. He notes that the “drop out gap is closing rapidly” and that Latino enrollment is up in part due to a cultural emphasis on education. Latinos, he says, care about education.

“[The increased enrollment] reflects the emphasis of Latino parents on education. Latino youth believe more than any other group that you need a degree to be successful,” Lopez said, citing a 2009 study from the Pew Hispanic Center. The study found that 77% of Latinos ages 16 to 25 say their parents think going to college is the most important thing to do after high school.

Jorge Castillo, who graduated from Yale in 2011, says his own parents' emphasis on education made all the difference in his choice to attend college.

Jorge attended a low-performing high school in Worcester, Massachusetts, in which only a fifth of the students who he started high school with graduated from four year colleges, according to his estimates. But Jorges’ parents, who were born in Puerto Rico, made sure their son had “a desk for homework and a computer with internet access” -- things that most of his high school peers lacked, he said.

Although his parents were unfamiliar with Yale University before he applied, he says their encouragement was integral to his success.

“When people would ask my parents what I was going to be when he grew up, they would always say, ‘We don’t know, but he’s going to college.’”

(Photo: Facebook.com/Jorge Castillo, Info Graphic: Pew Hispanic Center)

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