There's good news in the latest report from the Pew Hispanic Center: According to the most recent Census data, the number of Latino students enrolling in college hit an all-time high of 1.8 million in October 2010. The most staggering fact about that increase is that it reflects an enrollment surge of 24 percent between 2009 and 2010.
In raw numbers, that's an increase of 349,000 Latino students entering college in one year. And, for the first time, Latino students actually outnumber black ones on college campuses nationwide. So is the increase simply the result of population growth, or is it attributable to deeper factors?
The total population of 18-to-24-year-old Latinos only grew by seven percent during that year, not enough to account for the spike. What's more likely is that because the number of Latino high school graduates is on the rise, up to 73 percent in 2010 from 70 percent in 2009, more are able to enroll in college.
However, the picture isn't completely rosy. The data reveals that compared to other groups of students, Latinos remain less likely to attend a four-year college. Roughly 46 percent are enrolling at two-year schools, while only 54 percent head directly to four-year universities. "By contrast, among young white college students, 73 percent were enrolled in a four-year college, as were 78 percent of young Asian college students and 63 percent of young black college students," the report's authors found.
And ironically, the increased Latino enrollment at community colleges could spell bad news for both the longevity of the college enrollment boom as well as the nation's long-term economic prospects. As of 2009, state funding for community colleges was down 26.8 percent. Thanks to all that budget slashing, California turned away 150,000 students from community colleges in 2010. Likewise, earlier this year in Texas, state lawmakers actually proposed closing four community colleges because of funding issues.
Clearly, the boom can't continue if students can't even go to college because of these kinds of cuts to higher education. And, for America's future economic viability, we need Latino students to go to college more than ever. Latinos are expected to account for 60 percent of the United States' population growth between 2005 and 2050. We know that having a highly educated workforce is necessary to ensure our global economic competitiveness. If the younger versions of these new college students can't follow in their footsteps, the nation is in serious trouble.