For the first time, Latino students are now the largest minority group on college campuses.
A report released by the Pew Hispanic Center Monday shows there are 2 million 18- to 24-year-old Hispanics in college, making up 16.5 percent of all enrollments. This compares to 62.7 percent who are white and 13 percent who are African American.
Latino students reached this new milestone with a surge in college attendance of 15 percent from 2010 to 2011. At the same time, the number of African-American college students fell by 3 percent, from 1.69 million to 1.64 million. Authors say the reason for the shift is unclear, but may be a sampling error. Overall, college enrollment grew by 3 percent.
In 1972, the Latino share of college students was 2.9 percent. The report notes the demographic shift on campus is linked to the rapid population growth among Latinos in the country overall. There are 50 million Latinos in the United States, the nation's largest minority group with about 16.5 percent of the population. Among the 30 million young people ages 18 to 24, about 20 percent are Hispanic.
Based on K-12 population trends, the influx of Latinos in higher education will likely continue. Overall, 12.4 million Hispanic students are in P-12 in the public schools, making up 23.9 percent of the nation's enrollment, up from 19.9 percent in 2005 and 16.7 percent in 2000.
However, the report notes that population growth alone does not explain enrollment gains among Hispanics. Academic performance is improving, and more are eligible for college. In 2011, 76 percent of Hispanics ages 18 to 24 had finished high school, the highest level of Hispanic high school completion ever attained and 3 percent better than in 2010.
At four-year college, Latinos make up 13.1 percent of college students. At two-year colleges, they made up 25.2 percent of students enrolled, according to Pew.
The completion picture is improving, but the Latino share of degree recipients still lags behind others. Of all degree recipients, 13.2 percent with an associate degree were Hispanic and 8.5 percent among those receiving a bachelor's degree in 2010.
The analysis by Richard Fry and Mark Hugo Lopez was done with newly available U.S. Census Bureau data fro October 2011.