It’s always great news to hear that there’s been a record increase in Hispanic college enrollment to the point that Hispanics are now the largest minority group on four-year college campuses.

The Pew Hispanic Center has just released an analysis of newly available U.S. Census Bureau data indicating that for the first time, the number of 18-24-year-old Hispanics enrolled in four year colleges increased 20 percent from 1.0 million in 2010 to 1.2 million in 2011. Hispanics now represent a record of 16.5  percent of all college enrollments. In other words, the percentage of Hispanics on campus is the same as the percentage of Hispanics in the total population of the U.S. YAY!

Now the question that has more than a few people scratching their heads is, why? Why such a large increase in such a short period of time? Is it just reflective of Hispanic population growth? Apparently, not. According to Pew Hispanic Fund, this doesn’t account for the substantial increase.

So, here are some of my theories.

There’s an increasingly larger second generation of children born in the U.S. (now 52 percent of the nation’s 16 million Hispanic kids,) who are more acculturated and have all the advantages in terms of financial aid afforded to U.S. citizens. In addition, in part thanks to the Internet, these students socialize with college- bound kids of Hispanic and other ethnic backgrounds.

  1. In the last decade, there has been a strong, consistent focus by civil society on education. From national organizations such as Hispanic Scholarship Fund, USHLI, Hispanic Heritage Foundation, Hispanic College Fund, LNESC, Excelencia en Educación, Latinos in College, to the local grass roots organizations such as Latino Youth for Higher Education (LYHEP), Aspira, Let’s Get Ready, and Yonkers Partners in Education, they have provided support for different pieces of the puzzle to make college more accessible to first generation students.
  2. There’s been a relentless educational push by corporations such as McDonald’sCoca Cola, and Verizon among others, by the government trying to keep America competitive, and by the media (I.e.: Univision’s “Es el Momento,” Telemundo’s “El poder de saber”) that when combined with the ongoing efforts by civil society mentioned above are starting to produce results.
  3. A lot more students are checking the “Hispanic” box in their college applications because they want to have access to the additional funds available for people considered “minorities.”  Very often these applicants are children of mixed marriages, something that has become increasingly common in the last few decades. In 2010 the share of new marriages between spouses of a different race or ethnicity was 15.1  percent up from 3 percent in 1980.

There might not be just one reason for the phenomenal increase in Hispanic College Enrollment, but a mix of some of the factors outlined above with great population growth. I’d love to hear what other elements you think might be playing a role. The more we know what is working, the more we can all replicate the successful initiatives.

Mariela Dabbah is a published author and founder of Latinos in College, a not-for-profit organization, and of the Red Shoe Movement, an initiative that invites women to wear red shoes to work on Tuesday to signal their support for other women’s careers.

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