College enrollment continues at record high levels. That's what the Pew Research Center found last week in a report on college enrollment and ethnicity. In October 2010, the United States hit an all-time high of 12.2 million college students between 18 and 24 years old. The jump was attributed entirely to a single-year, 24-percent surge in Hispanic enrollment, accounting for 1.8 million students. College enrollment for black students also reached its highest level, climbing to 1.7 million students. White students declined by 4 percent, although they still make up about three-fourths of the total college population.
Pew attributes the spike in Hispanic and black college enrollment to demographic changes; the populations of black and Hispanic youth are growing while the white population is shrinking. But that isn't the whole story. Enrollment is increasing at a faster rate than the black and Hispanic population boom. Pew says that's because more minority students now are actually eligible for college--they graduated from high school. This is a good thing. More Hispanics and blacks are completing high school and more of those are going to college. It sounds exactly like the kind of goal outlined by the Obama administration and a wide swath of education advocates.
The weak economy is playing a part in the college enrollment spike, the Pew report says. Young people are enrolling in college because fewer of them can find jobs after high school. They also know that employers tend to pay about 50 percent more for young workers with college degrees than those with high school degrees. In a tight job market, this is the reaction one would hope for: Employers want educated workers. Those workers are going to get that education.
Let's take a moment to appreciate this. Are we seeing fruits of educators' tireless efforts to push students over the high school finish line? Does the growth in high school graduation and college enrollment rates for Latinos signal a breakthrough in language and social barriers for the nation's fastest growing demographic? Does the historic high in high school graduations among blacks mean that efforts to turn around low performing schools may actually be working? Is this purely a function of population changes? Or is there more going on here? What can be done to continue this trend?