April 24, 2014

More Hispanics, blacks enrolling in college, but lag in bachelor’s degrees

College enrollment by race/ethnicity in US

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a law passed by voters in Michigan that banned the consideration of race in public college admissions decisions. While eight states have passed laws restricting affirmative action since 1996, how has the racial makeup of college students and graduates changed?

The biggest story is among Hispanics, who have made big gains in college enrollment, a measure that includes both two- and four-year schools. From 1996 to 2012, college enrollment among Hispanics ages 18 to 24 more than tripled (240% increase), outpacing increases among blacks (72%) and whites (12%). (The Census Bureau did not publish Asian college enrollment figures before 1999.)  In fact, for the first time in 2012, Hispanics’college enrollment rate among 18- to 24 year-old high school graduates surpassed that of whites, by 49% to 47%.
Racial makeup of US public high school graduates, those enrolled in college and with bachelor's degree

College enrollment grew among all race and ethnic groups during this 16-year period. Among Hispanics, college enrollment growth exceeded the growth in public high school graduates (141%) over roughly the same time period. The number of public high school graduates increased 63% among blacks and 8% among whites.

In 2012, Hispanics made up about an equal proportion of all public high school graduates (18%) and all college students (ages 18 to 24) (19%). Whites, blacks and Asians also had about the same share of public high school graduates as college enrollees.

But when looking at data of an older age group with bachelor’s degrees, a gap opens because a smaller share of Hispanics are completing a four-year degree. In 2012, Hispanics accounted for just 9% of young adults (ages 25 to 29) with bachelor’s degrees. This gap is driven, in part, by the fact that Hispanics are less likely than whites to enroll in a four-year college, attend a selective college and enroll full-time.

While Hispanics are the most pronounced demographic story, the education data show different trends for other race and ethnic groups on college campuses. Like Hispanics, blacks are underrepresented among those with bachelor’s degrees. In 2012, blacks made up 14% of college-aged students (ages 18 to 24), yet just 9% of bachelor’s degrees earned by young adults.

By contrast, whites and Asians are overrepresented among young bachelor’s degree holders. Whites make up a smaller proportion of students on campus today than they did 20 years ago, when three out of every four students on a college campus was white. In 2012, whites accounted for 58% of college-aged students, but 69% of young adults with bachelor’s degrees. Like whites, the data show that a high percentage of Asians complete four-year degrees. In 2012, Asians accounted for 7% of college-aged students but 11% of bachelor’s degrees earned.

Americans by a two-to-one margin (63% to 30%) say affirmative action programs designed to increase the number of black and minority students on college campuses are a “good thing,” according to a new Pew Research poll. Blacks and Hispanics overwhelmingly support affirmative action and a majority of whites do, too. (Sample size for Asians is too small to be statistically significant.) Overall, support is nearly unchanged from 2003.

Topics: Race and Ethnicity, Educational Attainment

  1. Photo of Jens Manuel Krogstad

    is a writer/editor focusing on Hispanics, immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Richard Fry

    is a senior researcher focusing on economics and education at Pew Research Center.


  1. Valencia Stokes3 years ago

    This statistic proves nothing. If a certain percentage of minorities are CURRENTLY enrolled in college, you can’t then use the percentage of the ones who CURRENTLY have a degree to prove that the CURRENTLY enrolled students are not graduating. You have to wait a few years to prove that the enrolled students are indeed not graduating.

    1. Valencia Stokes3 years ago

      Also, many people go to college for two year degrees and certifications in particular fields, which might explain the lack of Bachelor’s degrees

      1. Damian Kershner2 years ago

        I agree

  2. janay dunn3 years ago

    what is the point in dropping out of school it does not make you look cool and people are going to have no respect for you at all so whats the point tell me

    1. Aisha Willow1 year ago

      Sometimes, it’s mental and financial issues.

  3. bruce crosby3 years ago

    This article shed light on an important topic. An additional thread that might be a good follow up would be the role of for profit colleges in recruiting minorities for the purpose of mining government financial assistance programs and their recruiters inflating the prospects for financial success following graduation. The lack of ongoing support of individual students is also credited for a high drop out rate particularly among minorities at for profit institutions. NPR has pursued this theme on a couple occasions.

  4. stonecarver3 years ago

    Students admitted under affirmative action do not complete college as the same rates as whites or Asians. Is the reason really such a mystery?

    1. Okay2 years ago

      StoneCarver, Whites and Asian benefit from Affirmative Action just like everybody else. White women use Affirmative Action. Also, Asians are minorities and relate more to Hispanics and Blacks, not whites.

      1. Steve Giardini2 years ago

        So the only group that gets discriminated against is white men.

        1. Marha2 years ago

          I would not complain you still run the racist system that divides American people than it does to bring people together. A lot of these problems would be fix if there was a interest in all Americans education and not just a select few.

      2. Garry Perkins2 years ago

        This is simply untrue. Asians get screwed by Affirmative Action. They experience at least as much discrimination as Latinos, but receive no benefits. Furthermore, affirmative action was supposed to make up for slavery and Jim Crow. Latinos experienced none of this (or at least not at the responsibility of the US). Latino affirmative action is nothing more than a drain on the improvement of African-Americans.

        Overall, affirmative action is supposed to right the wrongs of the past. Latinos simply were not here. If they do not like it, then can leave or curse their ancestors for coming. Blacks cannot, as their ancestors were dragged here in chains. We as Americans have an obligation to remedy the wrongs visited upon black Americans. We owe nothing to Asians or Latinos. Asians understand this and contribute to greater society. We should favor them in immigration and education policy as a result. It would be for the benefit of the country as a whole.

  5. Robert3 years ago

    Your statistics fail to consider other key factors. Look at cultural elements. Look at work ethic. Look at traditions of self-reliance and self-improvement. To attempt to evaluate and explain educational accomplishment solely by ethnicity is an invalid analysis. To argue that educational achievement should match racial demographics is sophomoric.

    1. Ahmad Qadafi3 years ago

      I’m willing to bet that vague, immeasurable barely defined concepts such as “work ethic” and “traditions of self-reliance and self-improvement” have nothing to do with the difference.
      I’m willing to be that most of the difference is due to enrollment patterns with black and Latinos more likely to attend two year degree programs.

  6. amillionmiles3 years ago

    The chart only includes public school data for HS students. Not enough data.