November 1, 2005

Recent Changes in the Entry of Hispanic and White Youth into College

III. Changes in the Nature of College-Going in States with Large Hispanic Populations

This section assesses changes in first-time, full-time freshman enrollment in seven states with large Hispanic populations: California, New York, Arizona, New Jersey, Florida, Texas and Illinois. Hispanic first-time, full-time enrollment in these seven states accounts for nearly 80 percent of the U.S. total. In 2001, these seven states accounted for nearly 150,000 of the 190,000 beginning Hispanic freshmen in all 50 states. California alone had 52,000 first-time, full-time degree-seeking Hispanic freshmen in 2001.

Overall Freshman Enrollment

The number of Hispanic youths beginning college studies of any kind increased sharply from 1996 to 2001. Hispanic first-time, full-time freshman enrollment grew by an average of 24 percent in the seven states (Figure 1). The biggest increase was in Florida, where the number of Hispanic freshmen increased by more than 6,000 students from 1996 to 2001, an increase of greater than 50 percent. The growth in the Hispanic college-going cohort reflects the increasing number of Hispanic high school graduates.1

White freshman enrollment at colleges and universities grew more modestly than Hispanic enrollments in all seven states. In particular, white freshman enrollment growth was below 15 percent in six of the seven states under consideration. In California the absolute number of white freshmen declined from 1996 to 2001. In New York and Illinois white freshman enrollment was flat. The only states where white freshman enrollment was up by more than 10 percent were Florida and Texas.

College Enrollment by Sector

As their numbers increased rapidly, Hispanic freshmen spread out across all types of colleges and universities. As white enrollment increased more slowly, the growth was concentrated in four-year colleges and universities.

Between 1996 and 2001, the number of Hispanics enrolled in post-secondary education in these seven states increased by nearly 26,000 students, and of these nearly 11,000 or 41 percent attended four-year degree-granting institutions (Figure 2). Meanwhile, among whites, full-time freshman enrollment increased by only 29,000 even though they represent a far greater share of the population. But white four-year enrollment increased by more than 32,000 students in the seven states combined.

The Growing Gap in Enrollment at Four-Year Colleges

Since enrollment growth in the four-year sector was much more robust for whites than their overall increase in enrollment, the share of white freshmen at four-year schools increased markedly. Six of the seven states examined registered increases in the proportion of white freshmen enrolled at four-year institutions (Table 1).2 In California the percentage of white freshmen educated at four-year colleges increased from 38 percent in 1996 to 46 percent in 2001. California and Arizona showed the broadest change, with the share of white freshmen enrolled at four-year schools increasing by 8 percentage points, and New York was not far behind with a 7-point increase. Texas, where the share fell by just 2 percentage points (57 percent to 55 percent), was the exception.

Among Hispanics, growth in the four-year sector was roughly in line with the overall increase in enrollment. As a result, the share of Hispanic freshman enrolling in four-year schools was virtually unchanged in six of the seven states. Only Illinois showed a change of more than 2 percentage points as the share of Hispanic freshmen enrolled in four year campuses there grew by 7 percentage points.

As a result of differing growth patterns for whites and Hispanics, the gap in enrollment at four-year colleges increased considerably in California, New York, Arizona and New Jersey between 1996 and 2001. The largest such increase occurred in California. In 1996, 38 percent of white freshmen and 29 percent of Hispanic freshmen attended four-year schools in California—a 9 percentage point gap. By 2001, Latino freshman enrollment in four-year colleges in California had increased only slightly to 31 percent, but the proportion of white youth had jumped to 46 percent. So a 9-point gap between white and Hispanic students expanded to a 16-point gap by 2001. (Figure 3). The states of New York, Arizona and New Jersey also produced a widening gap between white and Hispanic freshmen in enrollment at four-year degree-granting institutions.

Declining White Freshman Enrollments in Two-year Colleges

Hispanic college enrollment growth was balanced across both four-year and two-year colleges. The white enrollment change was quite different. While white enrollment increased at four-year schools, the number of white freshmen at two-year degree-granting institutions fell in five of the seven states (Figure 4). Only Florida and Texas experienced rising white freshman enrollment at their two-year colleges.

As a result of the decline in white freshman enrollment in two-year colleges, overall first-time, full-time freshman enrollment of students of all races/ethnicities fell at two-year colleges between 1996 and 2001 in several large states (Figure 5). California’s two-year freshman enrollment fell by nearly 4,000 students between 1996 and 2001.

The enrollment of Hispanic and white freshmen in two-year colleges was on opposite tracks in California, Arizona and New Jersey. In New Jersey the increase in nonwhite freshman enrollment in two-year colleges was large enough to more than offset the loss of white freshmen. However, declining white enrollment at two-year colleges was sufficiently large in California and Arizona to lead to an overall decrease in enrollment despite the influx of Hispanic freshmen.

In most states, Hispanics are more likely than their white peers to be educated in two-year colleges. In the seven large states under consideration, 40 percent of Hispanic freshmen were at two-year degree-granting institutions in 2001, compared with 36 percent of white freshmen. Two-year degree-granting institutions are educating a smaller share of both Hispanic and white freshmen in most states. Reflecting the change in the enrollment numbers, Texas was the only state in which a larger share of white freshmen were educated in two-year colleges in 2001 compared with 1996.

Enrollment at Four-Year Colleges with Selective Admissions Policies

Within the four-year sector of post-secondary education there is keen interest in the distribution of enrollment by the selectivity of the institution. Selectivity can be measured different ways, but it commonly refers to the level of competition for admission. A large, robust social science literature shows that students that attend more selective institutions tend to have greater success in college, are more likely to pursue graduate and professional education, and have more success in the work world following college (Bowen and Bok, 1998; Eide, Brewer and Ehrenberg, 1998; Daniel, Black and Smith, 1997). Selectivity also tends to be highly correlated with the size of the institution’s endowment and instructional spending per student (Winston, 1999). Other factors aside from institutional strengths contribute to the positive results. For example, incoming students at more selective colleges are better prepared for post-secondary studies as measured by higher average scores on college admission examinations.

There has been concern that minority enrollments at more selective colleges and universities are decreasing. Some analyses utilize minority application and admissions figures. While these applications and admissions are prerequisites to actual enrollment, they are not informative of attendance at the institution. Most of the attention has been paid to enrollment at the public, flagship colleges and universities such as the University of California system and the University of Texas at Austin. For example, a series of reports by the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute examines changes in admissions at the University of California system. The most recent report finds that the Hispanic share of admitted students has remained unchanged since 1997 throughout the University of California system, but the Hispanic share of admitted students at the University of California at Berkeley has fallen (Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, 2004). Clearly a broader examination is helpful. There are degrees of selectivity, and clearly enrollment in private institutions as well as public flagships should be examined.

A well-known taxonomy of selectivity is the Barron’s ranking of four-year colleges. The Barron’s Profile specifies seven levels of selectivity, running from “most competitive” down to “noncompetitive” and “special” four-year colleges and universities. The 73 “most competitive” institutions in the United States accept fewer than a third of their applicants. “Noncompetitive” and “special” institutions simply tend to require evidence of high school graduation to be admitted. In the results reported here, the seven selectivity categories are aggregated to two categories. “Selective” four-year colleges and universities include four-year colleges and universities identified in the three most competitive Barron’s categories: most competitive, highly competitive and very competitive. Four-year colleges in the lower four Barron’s competitiveness categories are “non-selective.” There are no four-year colleges and universities in Arizona in the three most competitive Barron’s categories, so Arizona’s four-year enrollments cannot be delineated by admissions selectivity.

Barron’s does not rank all four-year degree-granting colleges and universities. In the 1996 IPEDS Fall Enrollment survey, there are 1,821 four-year degree-granting institutions that reported first-time, full-time degree-seeking freshman enrollment. As explained in the Appendix, 1,752 of them are used in the enrollment analysis. Barron’s ranks 1,512 of the four-year degree-granting institutions and those institutions are the basis for the results reported.

Overall, Hispanic four-year freshmen are much less likely than white four-year freshmen to enroll in selective colleges. The proportion of white freshmen in selective colleges in California, New York and New Jersey is nearly twice as high as the proportion for Latino youth (Figure 6). Among the six states examined in this analysis, there are two notable exceptions: In both Florida and Illinois a greater proportion of Hispanic youths are enrolled in selective four-year colleges than white freshmen.

In most states, Hispanics are more likely than their white peers to be educated in two-year colleges. In the seven large states under consideration, 40 percent of Hispanic freshmen were at two-year degree-granting institutions in 2001, compared with 36 percent of white freshmen. Two-year degree-granting institutions are educating a smaller share of both Hispanic and white freshmen in most states. Reflecting the change in the enrollment numbers, Texas was the only state in which a larger share of white freshmen were educated in two-year colleges in 2001 compared with 1996.

Enrollment at Four-Year Colleges with Selective Admissions Policies

Within the four-year sector of post-secondary education there is keen interest in the distribution of enrollment by the selectivity of the institution. Selectivity can be measured different ways, but it commonly refers to the level of competition for admission. A large, robust social science literature shows that students that attend more selective institutions tend to have greater success in college, are more likely to pursue graduate and professional education, and have more success in the work world following college (Bowen and Bok, 1998; Eide, Brewer and Ehrenberg, 1998; Daniel, Black and Smith, 1997). Selectivity also tends to be highly correlated with the size of the institution’s endowment and instructional spending per student (Winston, 1999). Other factors aside from institutional strengths contribute to the positive results. For example, incoming students at more selective colleges are better prepared for post-secondary studies as measured by higher average scores on college admission examinations.

There has been concern that minority enrollments at more selective colleges and universities are decreasing. Some analyses utilize minority application and admissions figures. While these applications and admissions are prerequisites to actual enrollment, they are not informative of attendance at the institution. Most of the attention has been paid to enrollment at the public, flagship colleges and universities such as the University of California system and the University of Texas at Austin. For example, a series of reports by the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute examines changes in admissions at the University of California system. The most recent report finds that the Hispanic share of admitted students has remained unchanged since 1997 throughout the University of California system, but the Hispanic share of admitted students at the University of California at Berkeley has fallen (Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, 2004). Clearly a broader examination is helpful. There are degrees of selectivity, and clearly enrollment in private institutions as well as public flagships should be examined.

A well-known taxonomy of selectivity is the Barron’s ranking of four-year colleges. The Barron’s Profile specifies seven levels of selectivity, running from “most competitive” down to “noncompetitive” and “special” four-year colleges and universities. The 73 “most competitive” institutions in the United States accept fewer than a third of their applicants. “Noncompetitive” and “special” institutions simply tend to require evidence of high school graduation to be admitted. In the results reported here, the seven selectivity categories are aggregated to two categories. “Selective” four-year colleges and universities include four-year colleges and universities identified in the three most competitive Barron’s categories: most competitive, highly competitive and very competitive. Four-year colleges in the lower four Barron’s competitiveness categories are “non-selective.” There are no four-year colleges and universities in Arizona in the three most competitive Barron’s categories, so Arizona’s four-year enrollments cannot be delineated by admissions selectivity.

Barron’s does not rank all four-year degree-granting colleges and universities. In the 1996 IPEDS Fall Enrollment survey, there are 1,821 four-year degree-granting institutions that reported first-time, full-time degree-seeking freshman enrollment. As explained in the Appendix, 1,752 of them are used in the enrollment analysis. Barron’s ranks 1,512 of the four-year degree-granting institutions and those institutions are the basis for the results reported.

Overall, Hispanic four-year freshmen are much less likely than white four-year freshmen to enroll in selective colleges. The proportion of white freshmen in selective colleges in California, New York and New Jersey is nearly twice as high as the proportion for Latino youth (Figure 6). Among the six states examined in this analysis, there are two notable exceptions: In both Florida and Illinois a greater proportion of Hispanic youths are enrolled in selective four-year colleges than white freshmen.

Both Hispanic and white enrollments in the more selective colleges and universities increased in absolute number between 1996 and 2001. However, the increase in enrollments at selective schools did not keep up with the overall growth in enrollments in the four-year sector. Hence, freshman enrollment in selective colleges on a percentage basis was either flat or declined between 1996 and 2001 across the board (Figure 6). In other words, both Hispanic and white freshmen were somewhat less likely to attend selective colleges in 2001 when compared with 1996. Thus, the enrollment gap between white and Hispanic four-year college freshmen in selective institutions did not widen from 1996 to 2001.3

  1. For the nation as a whole, the number of Hispanic high school graduates increased by 36 percent from 1996 to 2001. Nationally, Hispanic first-time, full-time, degree-seeking freshmen in post-secondary education increased markedly by nearly 25 percent from 1996 to 2001. Counts of high school graduates are not available for Arizona and New Jersey. Hispanic high school graduates increased at least 25 percent in California, New York, Florida, Texas and Illinois. Texas had the largest increase in Hispanic high school graduates between 1996 to 2001, increasing 39 percent (NCES, 1999).
  2. Specifically, the rate is the share of a group’s total first-time, full-time enrollment that is at four-year colleges or universities. In the case of whites, the rate is (white four-year freshmen/white total freshmen).
  3. For example, in California in 1996, 36 percent of Hispanic four-year, first-time freshmen enrolled at selective four-year colleges, compared with 60 percent of white four-year, first-time freshmen. Four-year enrollments experienced rapid growth among both Hispanics and whites, so that by 2001 30 percent of Hispanic four-year students were in selective schools and 55 percent of white four-year students were in selective colleges. So there is a gap in California in the selectivity of four-year students between white and Hispanic students, but the gap has not widened. It has remained at 24 percentage points.