August 25, 2011

Hispanic College Enrollment Spikes, Narrowing Gaps with Other Groups

III. Booming Hispanic Enrollment Reflects More Than Demographics

The record college enrollment level of young Hispanics is in large measure due to the educational strides they have made, not just growth in the underlying population. In October 2010, a record 32% of Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in college (up from the previous high of 27.5% in 2009). In October 2010, there were about 5.7 million Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds, and some 1.8 million of them were pursuing college. However, if young Hispanics enrolled in college at the rate they did 25 years ago (17% in 1985), fewer than 1.0 million of them would be pursuing college degrees today.

Hispanic High School Completion

One reason the Hispanic college enrollment rate is at a record level is that more Hispanic youth are college-eligible than ever before. Virtually all college students have finished high school. In effect, to attend college a youth must finish high school (by graduating with a diploma or obtaining a GED or other equivalency). In October 2010, the Hispanic high school completion rate reached its highest level on record at nearly 73%, an increase of almost 3 percentage points from the 70% in October 2009.5

Hispanic Enrollment Among the College-Eligible

In addition to strides in college eligibility, Hispanic youth have increased the rate at which those eligible for college (that is, high school completers) enroll in college. In October 2010, a record 44% of young Hispanic high school completers were enrolled in college, up nearly 5 percentage points from the rate in October 2009 (39%).

Growth in the Number of Young Hispanics

Hispanic population growth is also a factor in booming young Hispanic college enrollments. For example, since 2000, the Hispanic 18- to 24-year-old population has grown by nearly 1.6 million, according to the CPS. (The entire non-Hispanic college-age population grew by only 1.5 million since 2000.) Absent educational changes, Hispanic population growth alone would boost Hispanic college enrollment. But the growth rates since 2000 in various young Hispanic groups demonstrate that population growth alone does not account for the growth in Hispanic college enrollment. The Hispanic 18-to 24-year-old population grew 38% since 2000. The number of 18- to 24-year-old Hispanic high school completers grew 68% since 2000. And the size of the young Hispanic college student population has more than doubled since 2000.

  1. As Table A5 shows, the Hispanic high school dropout rate was at a record low in October 2010 at 18% among 18- to 24-year-olds. October 2010 marks the first time in the October CPS that the Hispanic high school dropout rate was under 20%.