The Hispanic Face of Future College Students

The publication this past week of the Pew Hispanic Center’s report, Hispanic College Enrollment Spikes, Narrowing Gaps with Other Groups, highlights the importance of the Hispanic market for higher education.  The one-year growth rate in college enrollment of Hispanic, young adults from 2009 to 2010 was 24%.  The entire growth in college enrollment among young adults in 2010 can be accounted for alone by the increase in Hispanic enrollment.  While a one-year surge does not make a trend, there is much in the report’s data that points to the potential of a trend and to the need for increased preparation by higher education institutions for the educational needs of Hispanic Americans.

College-age Hispanics accounted for 1.8 million of the 12.2 million young adults enrolled in colleges in 2010.  Hispanic college enrollment has lagged behind other American non-white groups, and Blacks remain the largest minority group on the nation’s college campuses.  The 24% increase this past year stands in stark contrast to earlier levels of college enrollment by Hispanics.  In 1972, 5% of the nation’s young adult college students were of Hispanic origin; in 2010, the share of young adult college enrollment was 19%.

A number of factors point to increased enrollment of Hispanics in the future.  They include, not surprisingly, the overall growth rate in Hispanic Americans.  Within the last month, I reported in my blog, Larry Penley’s Access With Success, that the Hispanic population had increased more than 200% between the 1990 census and the 2010 census, growing from 22 million to 50.5 million. But factors portending an upward trend in Hispanic college enrollment include, as well, an increase in the high school graduation rate (at a record high of 73% in 2010) and the fact that the college participation rate of Hispanics has risen substantially with 44% of college-age Hispanics enrolled in 2010 compared with 39% in 2009.

While the economic challenges of finding a job may account for some of the increased enrollment, the potential trend data call on college administrators to prepare for an increase in the interest of Hispanic adults in college enrollment.  In order to prepare for that enrollment growth, colleges should address at least four areas of college readiness of this previously under-served ethnic group, the first of which is content knowledge of incoming students.  As I have observed before, the two decade-old, documented, K-12 math and reading achievement gaps are essentially unchanged for Hispanics.

And content readiness for college is only one area in which administrators must address the needs of Hispanics; there are at least two others.  They include the extent to which students possess the learning skills required for more challenging academic work.  The gap in content knowledge may also accompany a gap in learning skills.  Finally, attention needs to be given to the transition to higher education for Hispanics.  Hispanics have a much higher preference than Blacks and whites to enroll in non-four-year institutions.  Community colleges pride themselves on dealing with working adults and at-risk students.  Four-year colleges may well learn something from community colleges about improving the transition of Hispanic students and helping them to build the skills necessary for academic work.

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