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: Educational Attainment, Race and Ethnicity

  1. is a Writer/Editor at the Pew Research Center's Hispanic Trends Project.

  2. Photo of Richard Fry

    is a Senior Research Associate at the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project.

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6 Comments

  1. janay dunn3 weeks 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

    Reply
  2. bruce crosby6 months 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.

    Reply
  3. stonecarver6 months 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?

    Reply
  4. Robert6 months 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.

    Reply
    1. Ahmad Qadafi6 months 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.

      Reply
  5. amillionmiles6 months ago

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

    Reply