By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
(CNN) – Latino student populations have been on an upward trajectory in the U.S. for decades, and a report released Monday says the group’s growth reached record levels last year, both in public schools and colleges.
The number of 18- to 24-year-old Latinos in college topped 2 million in 2011, accounting for 16.5% of all enrollments, according to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center. The number means Latino representation in U.S. colleges and universities is on par with the percentage of Latinos among the U.S. population, also 16.5%.
Record numbers of Latinos are also finishing college, with 112,000 earning associate degrees and 140,000 earning bachelor’s degrees. Pew states both statistics are new highs, yet Latinos still lag behind whites (1.2 million bachelor’s degrees and 553,000 associates) and blacks (165,000 bachelor’s and 114,000 associates) in degree attainment.
“Some of the growth in Hispanic college enrollments simply reflects continued growth in the nation’s Hispanic population – since 1972, the number of Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds has grown nearly five-fold, rising from 1.3 million then to 6 million in 2011,” the report said.
However, population alone cannot explain the numbers, as eligibility to attend college also is a factor. In 2011, 76% of Latinos age 18 to 24 had completed high school, another record and a 3.5% improvement over 2010 numbers.
At the pre-kindergarten-through-12th-grade level, Latinos made up 23.9% of students in 2011, another record, according to the report from the nonpartisan Washington-based think tank.