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Minorities Drive Increase in Freshman Enrollment

More students are headed to college, and a large proportion of those freshmen are minorities.

A report, "Minorities and the Recession-Era College Enrollment Boom," released today by the Pew Research Center reveals the recent increase in the size of freshman classes at four-year colleges, community colleges, and trade schools has been driven largely by a sharp increase in minority-student enrollment.

The analysis of new data from the U.S. Department of Education looks at the freshman classes at 6,100 institutions from the fall of 2007 to the fall of 2008. There was a 6 percent increase in enrollment—the largest in 40 years—with a record 2.6 million first-time, full-time freshmen enrolled in 2008. Minority students were a big part of the reason. In that time frame, Hispanic enrollment grew by 15 percent, African-Americans by 8 percent, and whites by 3 percent.

This is, in part, a reflection of the demographic change in the nation. Also, Hispanics are completing high school at record rates—70 percent in 2008, up by 2.5 percent over the previous year according to the report. The report suggests that youths do adapt to circumstances and they are seeking education to boost their marketability during this economic downturn.

So where are minority college students going to school? Enrollment was up at all types of institutions, but more are enrolling in community colleges and trade schools than four-year colleges. Freshman classes at private for-profit institutions grew at a faster rate than others, with an 11 percent surge in enrollment. This increase and the high debt that students often face at these institutions has the private, for-profit sector under scrutiny. (See Monday's post.)

It's too early to tell if this trend has continued because data are not yet available. But as the United States becomes increasingly diverse, so will higher education. How will campuses and policymakers respond to make sure all students are not only welcomed but also supported all the way through graduation?

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