In just one year the number of Hispanics ages 18 to 24 on America college campuses grew by nearly a quarter, while the number of white students that age declined, highlighting a substantial and increasingly rapid demographic transition in higher education.
The 24 percent increase _ about 350,000 additional young Hispanics in college in 2010 compared to the year before _ was reported Thursday in a study of Census data by the Pew Hispanic Center. It's the largest such increase on record, and is noteworthy because it's substantially higher than the 7 percent increase in the overall population of Hispanics that age.
That more Hispanics are completing high school, and thus becoming eligible for college, is one factor. But the economy is another, with fewer jobs available for students who stop at high school. Hispanics may have been disproportionately affected by those changes, though it's not clear from this particular data.
"In the Great Recession, job markets, particularly for the nation's young in many states, significantly deteriorated," said Richard Fry, senior research associate at the center. "For some youth, work is an alternative to school. They can't find jobs, so why not finish high school? Why not go to college?"
The number of college-age blacks enrolled in higher education also increased, though not as rapidly, and for the first time there are more Hispanic 18-to-24 year-olds on U.S. campuses than blacks.
Overall, college-age Hispanics represented 1.8 million, or 15 percent, of the 12.2 million young adults in college. But substantial differences persist in the types of colleges different groups attend.
Forty-six percent of young Hispanics attending college last October enrolled in two-year schools and 54 percent in four-year schools. By contrast, 73 percent of young white students enrolled are in four-year colleges, along with 78 percent of Asians and 63 percent of blacks.
The 43 percent of college-aged whites enrolled in higher education remains higher than the figure for blacks (38 percent) and Hispanics (32 percent).
But unlike for those groups, the proportion of young whites in higher education is falling. There were 320,000 fewer young non-Hispanic whites in college in 2010 compared to the year before. The drop is only partly explained by a declining population of whites that age; the smaller group is also falling in achievement. Both the percentage graduating from high school and the percentage of high school graduates enrolling in college fell last year.
At the Community College of Denver, in Colorado, where about a quarter of the approximately 7,000 students are Hispanic, President Cliff Richardson says the economy is one factor driving enrollment growth but the college has gotten better at recruiting.
"We're also doing many new outreach programs, we're catching these students in high schools, sometimes even in middle schools," he said. "We're making them believe college is attainable."
Lorenzo Castillo, a biology student and aspiring dentist at Florida International University, where Hispanics are a majority of the student body, said the word has gotten out in the community there are no good jobs without college.
"It's because of how people are being brought up these days," he said. "You have to go to college now. You have to work harder now. A lot more people are than before."
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Justin Pope covers higher education for the AP. You can reach him at twitter.com/jnn_pope97