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Hispanic Postsecondary Enrollment Increases Throughout the Fifth District

Regional Matters
December 16, 2022

Colleges and universities across the country have become more racially and ethnically diverse over the last decade. While 62.6 percent of students enrolled in higher education in the U.S. identified as white in 2010, that rate had fallen to 54.0 percent in 2020. (Note: throughout the article, white refers to non-Hispanic white and Black refers to non-Hispanic Black.) The percentage of students identifying as Black also fell, declining from 15.0 percent in 2010 to 13.1 percent in 2020. So which minority groups experienced growth? While the Asian share of enrollment grew from 6.3 percent to 7.7 percent, the majority of the shift was seen in the share of Hispanic enrollment, which grew from 13.5 percent of total enrollment in 2010 to 20.3 percent in 2020.

These enrollment trends are partially driven by an overall shift in demographics in the United States. However, the shift in college enrollment was more significant than the shift in overall population over the same time period. According to the 2010 Census, Hispanics comprised 16 percent of the total population in the U.S. This figure grew to 18.9 percent in the 2020 census. Over the same period, the Hispanic enrollment share increased from 13.5 percent to 20.3 percent, outpacing the Hispanic population share.

As in the nation overall, Hispanic postsecondary enrollment has grown throughout the Fifth District, both in terms of the number of students and share of total enrollment. This trend has contributed to increased diversity on college and university campuses and helped mitigate declines in overall postsecondary enrollment.

Fifth District Enrollment Trends over Time

The number of Hispanic postsecondary students in the Fifth District increased from about 87,000 students in 2010 to 171,000 students in 2020 – an increase of 97 percent.

By contrast, overall postsecondary enrollment declined by 3 percent between 2010 and 2020. The number of white, Black, and American Indian or Alaskan Native students enrolled declined during this time, while the numbers of students identifying as Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander, and two or more races increased. Notably, if Hispanic enrollment had not increased at the rate that it did, the decline in overall postsecondary enrollment would have more than doubled.

The percent change in Hispanic enrollment between 2010 and 2020 was high across all Fifth District states and the District of Columbia. Hispanic enrollment more than doubled in D.C., North Carolina, and South Carolina. In the remaining Fifth District states, Hispanic enrollment increased by over 70 percent. With the exception of D.C. and Virginia, overall postsecondary enrollment declined during the same time period. (See chart below).

During the same time period, the share of overall students who identified as Hispanic increased from 4 percent to 9 percent, with increases in all Fifth District states. (See chart below).

Demographics versus Changing Enrollment Rates

As mentioned previously, some of the increase in Hispanic college enrollment is attributable to the increase in the Hispanic population overall. According to research from the Pew Research Center, newborns (as opposed to immigrants) have accounted for the majority of growth in the Hispanic population since the 2000s. Hispanic students who enrolled in 2020 represent the cohort of Hispanic people born at a time when Hispanic births were greater than immigration. Given this trend, we should expect to see the number of Hispanic individuals seeking to enroll in postsecondary education continue to rise as the current and subsequent cohorts of Hispanic children graduate from high school, ready to enter college.

At the same time, college attendance rates among Hispanic people aged 18-24 ("Hispanic young adults") have been increasing across most Fifth District states and D.C. Estimated enrollment rates were particularly high in D.C., where over 60 percent of Hispanic young adults were enrolled in a postsecondary institution between 2016 and 2020. West Virginia was the only state to see a decline in enrollment among Hispanic young adults, yet there were still over 30 percent of Hispanic young adults enrolled. (See chart below).

While Hispanic young adults' postsecondary enrollment rates have increased in most Fifth District states and D.C., they remain lower than postsecondary enrollment rates for non-Hispanic white young adults. Many schools view lagging Hispanic enrollment rates as an opportunity for future enrollment growth in the midst of enrollment challenges among other demographic groups.

Recruitment and Retention of Hispanic Students

Efforts to recruit and retain higher numbers of Hispanic students exist at colleges and universities across the district. These efforts range from targeted recruitment activities such as the Hispanic College Institute at Virginia Tech to the celebration of Hispanic culture at schools like West Virginia Wesleyan. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) was named by Excelencia in Education as the top institution in North Carolina for the percentage of bachelor's degrees awarded to Hispanic students. UNCC has an admissions director specifically focused on Hispanic recruitment and has seen consistent year-over-year increases in Hispanic bachelor's degree attainment, increasing from 143 in 2011 to 591 in 2020. They identify efforts, such as the University Transition Opportunities Program, as key to their success as they work to support underrepresented minorities in their transition from high school to college. Additional cultural and social programming is provided by the university both for the participation of Hispanic students and for the purpose of educating non-Hispanic students.

Three district community colleges, Montgomery College (MD), Sampson Community College (NC) and Northern Virginia Community college, along with Marymount University (VA), have taken the additional step of becoming designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education. In order to qualify, at least 25 percent of full-time equivalent students at the institution must be Hispanic. This designation provides institutions with the ability to receive federal grant dollars to aid in the support of Hispanic students.

In addition to institutional efforts to increase Hispanic enrollment, nonprofits are doing important work in this space as well. In North Carolina, the North Carolina Society of Hispanic Professionals hosts an annual Hispanic Educational Summit to inform Hispanic youth of the benefits of higher education. Another organization with roots in rural North Carolina, LatinxEd, runs several programs to guide Latinx students and their families through the college preparation and application process. In Virginia, the Virginia Latino Higher Education Network (VALHEN) works to improve Latino students' access to and success in higher education. They also work to increase hiring of Latino faculty and staff on college campuses and to promote welcoming and culturally sensitive campus atmospheres. North Carolina and Virginia are also two of just six states nationally that are participating in the Lumina Foundation's REACH Collaborative. This effort aims to increase adult credential attainment among Black and Hispanic learners at community colleges by at least 2 percent.


While college enrollment has fallen overall in recent years, Hispanic enrollment has consistently grown both nationally and within the Fifth District. This trend is likely to continue, at least in the near term, due to projected population growth among the Hispanic population. This represents an opportunity for Fifth District institutions of higher education as they seek enrollment growth and diversification.

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