Hispanic College Enrollment Rate Overtakes White Enrollment

A Pew Research Center report released Thursday notes that Hispanic college enrollment reached a record high for the class of 2012, surpassing the rate of white enrollment for the first time. Pew shows that 69 percent of Hispanic high school graduates enrolled in college compared to 67 percent of whites, a jump from just under half of the graduating class in 2000. And there are other promising stats: The Hispanic high school dropout rate is at 14 percent, down from 28 percent a decade before. Still, Hispanic college students are less likely to enroll in a four-year, full-time college and are less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree.

Though the Pew report does not look closely at the reasons behind the increase, it suggests that declining employment opportunities for high school graduates may be part of the explanation:

It is possible that the rise in high school completion and college enrollment by Latino youths has been driven, at least in part, by their declining fortunes in the job market. Since the onset of the recession at the end of 2007, unemployment among Latinos ages 16 to 24 has gone up by seven percentage points, compared with a five percentage point rise among white youths. With jobs harder to find, more Latino youths may have chosen to stay in school longer.

Another factor, however, could be the importance that Latino families place on a college education. According to a 2009 Pew Hispanic Center survey, 88% of Latinos ages 16 and older agreed that a college degree is necessary to get ahead in life today (Pew Hispanic Center, 2009). By contrast, a separate 2009 survey of all Americans ages 16 and older found that fewer (74%) said the same (Pew Research Social & Demographic Trends, 2009).

The following graphs show the dramatic change:

This should catch the attention of Heritage Foundation’s Jason Richwine, who coauthored a debunked immigration study that argues reform is too costly. Richwine argued in his dissertation that immigrants naturally possess a lower IQ, a pseudoscience point linked to anti-immigration groups actively working against reform.


Anti-immigrant advocates don’t note this, of course, but legalization and state-level reform would help more undocumented immigrants pursue a college education. But right now many states still do not provide in-state tuition to deferred action students.