Why Are More Latinos Going to College?

A record number of Latino freshmen enrolled in college during the start of the recession, a new study from Pew Research found. It was the largest increase in 40 years. Why? What else does the data reveal?

Instead of trying to compete for jobs during the economic downturn, a record 2.6 million full-time freshmen enrolled in 6,100 institutions during the start of the recession (2007–2008), reports the Pew Research Center, with the percentage of Latino enrollment outpacing all other racial/ethnic groups.

According to the just-released “Minorities and the Recession-Era College Enrollment Boom,” the 6 percent enrollment spike was the largest increase in 40 years. And the majority of growth came from Latino and Black student enrollment: Between 2007 and 2008, Latino freshmen enrollment grew 15 percent and Black enrollment jumped 8 percent, compared with an increase of only 3 percent among white freshmen.

What else did the study find?

  • The college-enrollment boom is a reflection of national demographic changes. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that high-school completion rates among Latinos hit a record 70 percent in October 2008, up 2.5 percentage points over the previous year and a larger increase than other racial/ethnic groups.
  • As a result, freshmen enrollment was concentrated in states with large Latino populations. California topped the list. “The increase in freshmen in California alone accounts for 35 percent of the nation’s total freshmen enrollment,” says the report. Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico also saw higher-than-average growth in freshmen enrollment. States that experienced negative growth in freshmen enrollment included Oklahoma, Delaware, Nebraska and Minnesota.
  • Two-year institutions, primarily community colleges, reported the greatest increase in enrollment at 11 percent. Freshmen enrollment also grew by 11 percent at private, for-profit institutions, including four-year colleges and universities, two-year colleges and less-than-two-year schools.

“In a nation whose population of youths is far more diverse than its population of adults, each new year brings a slightly larger share of minority teenagers into the pool of potential college freshmen,” states the report. “In addition, the first year of the recession was a time when young Hispanics, in particular, were completing high school at record rates.”

Other findings:

  • The nation’s 2008 high-school graduation class of 3.3 million is estimated to have been the largest ever, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
  • A record number of students who complete high school immediately enroll in college the following semester. In October 2008, 68.6 percent of high-school graduates enrolled in college; by October 2009, their numbers jumped to 70 percent—”a historical high for the data series, which began in 1959,” state the study’s authors.
  • The nation’s youth are facing increasingly limited labor-market opportunities. Unemployment rates for people ages 16 to 19 rose to 21 percent in December 2008, from 17 percent at the start of the recession in December 2007. In October 2009, teen unemployment hit an all-time high at 28 percent. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this was the highest level recorded since 1948.

“The strong growth in freshmen enrollment suggests that youths do ‘adapt to circumstances.’ That is, when faced with a decline in employer demand, they boost their school enrollment and continue living with their parents rather than striking out on their own,” explain Pew researchers.

Click here to see Pew Hispanic Center’s Associate Director Dr. Mark Hugo Lopez’s presentation on the growing Latino population from DiversityInc’s March 2010 event.


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