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More Latinos in U.S. colleges than ever as enrollment keeps rising

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The Pew Hispanic Center has a new report out today that documents the continued rise of Latino student enrollment, from public elementary school through college.

For the first time, Latino college students now make up the largest minority group in the nation’s four-year colleges and universities; last year, another Pew report showed Latino enrollment spiking. Also for the first time, Latinos make up one-quarter of students 18-24 enrolled in two-year colleges.

Altogether, there are more than two million Latinos ages 18-24 enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities, accounting for a record 16.5 percent share of enrollments.

Another milestone was reached on public school campuses, where one in four public elementary school students in the United States is now Latino. Between pre-kindergarten and 12th grade, a record 23.9 percent of the student population in 2011 was Latino, according to the report.

Is this due strictly to Latino population growth, driven in the recent past by immigration, and more recently by a growing second generation? It's a factor, but there's more to it:

...rapid Latino population growth has played a role in driving Latino student enrollment gains over the past four decades.

However, population growth alone does not explain all the enrollment gains made by Hispanic students in recent years (Fry, 2011). Today, with the high school completion rate among young Hispanics at a new high, more young Hispanics than ever are eligible to attend college.

According to the Pew Hispanic analysis, 76.3% of all Hispanics ages 18 to 24 had a high school diploma or a General Educational Development (GED) degree in 2011, up from 72.8% in 2010. And among these high school completers, a record share—nearly half (45.6%)—is enrolled in two-year or four-year colleges. Both demographic trends and greater eligibility have contributed to growth in the number of Hispanic young people enrolled in college in recent years.

And accordingly, more Latinos are graduating with college degrees. From the report:
In 2010, the number of Latinos who received a bachelor’s degree reached a record 140,000 recipients, according to data published by the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education...A record number of associate degrees were awarded to Latinos in 2010 as well—112,000.

That said, Latinos still lag behind other groups in terms of receiving degrees, in spite of these gains. The complete Pew report can be downloaded here.