Driven by a single-year surge of 24% in Hispanic enrollment, the number of 18- to 24-year-olds attending college in the United States hit an all-time high of 12.2 million in October 2010, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of newly available Census Bureau data. From 2009 to 2010, the number of Hispanic young adults enrolled in college grew by 349,000, compared with an increase of 88,000 young blacks and 43,000 young Asian Americans and a decrease of 320,000 young non-Hispanic whites.

As a result of these shifts, young Hispanics for the first time outnumbered young blacks on campus, even though young black college enrollment has also grown steadily for decades and it, too, has surged in recent years. In 2010, 38% of all 18- to 24-year-old blacks were enrolled in college, up from 13% in 1967 and 32% in 2008.

The Hispanic enrollment increase has been even more dramatic than the black enrollment increase because it has been spurred by a mixture of population growth and educational strides. High levels of immigration and high birth rates have made Hispanics the nation’s biggest minority group, comprising 16% of the U.S. population as of 2010. In 1972, just 5% of the nation’s 18- to 24-year-olds were Hispanic. By 2010, that share rose to 19%.

However, population growth accounts for only a share of the 24% young Hispanic college enrollment spike from 2009 to 2010.  During that same period, the total population of 18- to 24-year-old Hispanics grew by 7%.

Rising educational attainment is an important driver of these enrollment trends, over the long term as well as in recent years. The rate of young Hispanics enrolled in college rose from 13% in 1972 to 27% in 2009 to 32% in 2010.

These findings are based on an analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s School Enrollment Supplement of the October 2010 Current Population Survey (CPS), supplemented by historical time series based on the CPS.  The CPS is the standard source for national rates of college enrollment and has collected college enrollment information in a consistent manner since 1947.

Download the Complete Report from Pew Hispanic Center.
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