Hispanic high school graduates continue to lag other groups in college attendance, according to new data from the state Department of Higher Education.

Colorado college campus montage
From left, Colorado State University in Fort Collins, the University of Colorado-Boulder and the Auraria Higher Education Center.

“Evident throughout the report are gaps in postsecondary access and success between white students and minority students,” states the 2013 “Report on the Postsecondary Progress and Success of High School Graduates,” finished recently by DHE and the Department of Education. “In particular, Hispanic students, who constitute Colorado’s largest and fastest-growing minority population, significantly underperform white students on every measure.”

Overall, 57 percent of 2011 high school graduates went to two- or four-year colleges in Colorado and other states. That’s down slightly from the 2009 and 2010 rates, 58.8 percent and 57.9 percent. (Statewide college enrollment grew significantly after the recession hit in 2008 but has leveled off as the economy has improved.)

The report found a 22 percent gap between whites and Hispanics in college attendance by students who graduated from high school in 2011.

But the report also found good news about Hispanic students. “Over the last three years, enrollment rates declined or stayed level for most ethnic populations, with a notable exception being Hispanic students, who enrolled at a higher rate in 2011 (41.5 percent) than in 2009 (39.8 percent).”

The gap between Hispanics and white students has long been a concern for Colorado policymakers, and closing that gap is a priority of the higher education master plan adopted late last year by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education in response to a legislative directive.

Chart of school districts
Chart shows the top 10 districts in terms of college enrollment. (Click to open a larger image in a new window.)

The enrollment report said, “Hispanic students who are eligible for free and reduced price lunch have the lowest college-going rate at 35.6 percent. Hispanics students are also the most likely to received free and reduced price lunch. Nearly 52 percent of all Hispanic high school graduates in 2011 received free or reduced price lunch.”

And the study noted the challenges facing Hispanic students once they get to college. “Hispanic students who did enroll in college in 2011 were 3.5 times more likely to have financial need than white students. In terms of postsecondary performance, Hispanic first-year college students have, on average, lower grade point averages and lower credit accumulation than white students.”

Chart of districts
Chart shows the 10 lowest districts in terms of college enrollment. (Click to open a larger image in a new window.)

The report, only the second that DHE has produced on college attendance by recent high school graduates, covers enrollment trends, information such as financial aid and grade-point averages for first-year students and retention data.

The study also provides a breakdown by school district of college attendance and other statistics.

However, because of data limitations, the study does not provide a full picture of postsecondary attendance by Colorado high school graduates. In addition to students attending schools in the state system, the report includes students at only three private Colorado institutions, Colorado Christian University, Regis University and the University of Denver.

A 2012 law will make it possible to collect data from other institutions, and the report notes, “Future reports will be able to track college matriculation in Colorado into an additional 50 degree-granting private institutions.”

Highlights for the Class of 2011

Most popular collegesFour year

  • CSU – 3,181
  • CU – 2,791
  • UNC – 1,861

Two-year

  • Front Range CC – 1,523
  • Pikes Peak CC- 1,094
  • CC of Denver – 865

Out-of-state

  • University of Wyoming – 295
  • Brigham Young – 154
  • Arizona State – 136
  • 52,246 total graduates; 29,974 went to college
  • 57 percent enrolled in college within six months of graduating
  • 69.3 percent of Asian graduates, 63.4 percent of white, 54.3 percent of African-American and 41.5 percent of Hispanic graduates went on the college
  • Almost one-quarter of grads were eligible for free- or reduced-price lunch, and 41.5 percent of those students went to college
  • 61 percent of girls went to college and 53.7 percent of boys
  • 71 percent enrolled in four-year schools, 29 percent at two-year schools
  • About 37 percent of first-year students received a Federal Pell Grant in 2011
  • 79 percent attended Colorado institutions
  • Hispanic students are the least likely to leave the state for college (11.2 percent), while white students are the most likely to leave (24 percent) and African-American students had the next highest percentage, with 21 percent studying in other states
  • At the end of the 2011-2012 academic year, the average cumulative grade point average for first-year students was 2.68
  • Of the 2011 graduates who enrolled in college immediately, approximately 75 percent completed at least 18 credit hours by the end of their first year, and a about 25 percent completed more than 34 hours (30 hours is considered a full class load)

Another goal of the state’s master plan is to increase the number of college degrees and the number of professional and vocational certificates awarded every year. Policymakers are driven by the estimate that almost 70 percent of Colorado jobs will require some form of post-secondary credential by 2018.

“While Colorado unquestionably has a robust, high-quality higher education system, it is essential that these disparities in access and success be reduced if the state is to remain competitive in today’s global economy,” the report notes. “As the Colorado Commission on Higher Education’s 2012 Master Plan notes, ‘Success in meeting the state’s primary goal of increasing the college attainment rate to 66 percent of all citizens ages 25-34 hinges on improving underserved students.’”