Latinos Largest Minority Group on Campuses

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COLUMBIA - The number of 18-24 year old Hispanics enrolled in college exceeded two million in 2011, a 15 percent increase from 2010, making Latinos the largest minority on college campuses, the Pew Hispanic Center said. The study's authors, Richard Fry and Mark Hugo Lopez, said the increase comes from the Latino population's growth and an increased number of college-eligible Latinos nation-wide.

For the first time ever, the Hispanic representation on college campuses matched its population representation at 16.5 percent.

But mid-Missouri isn't keeping up with the national numbers. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, no four-year college or university in the area has a Hispanic population over 10 percent. Missouri Valley College in Marshall had the highest Hispanic population ratio with seven percent. That means Missouri Valley has about 124 Hispanic students enrolled.

Even though mid-Missouri schools are not pacing with national numbers, local schools are keeping up with the local population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the total number of Hispanics in Missouri is more than 200,000--about three percent of the Missouri population. Most colleges and universities have a two to three percent Hispanic student body.

Centro Latino Vice President Vicki Boyd-Kennedy said she thinks one of the reasons Latino enrollment is low here is because of the legal limitations for some Missouri residents.

"Our state law prohibits students without a green card, without permanent residency, without citizenship to even attend a post-secondary institution here that's public," Boyd-Kennedy said. "They can't go to a public institution that is receiving state taxpayer money."

Boyd-Kennedy said some schools need to focus on the local Latino population and its needs.

"Many of them are legal citizens," Boyd-Kennedy said. "They need all the opportunities they can for preparing for college and to give them hope that they can build on what they're doing in high school and go to college and achieve their dreams."

Programs like Centro Latino's after-school tutoring aim to help younger Latino students succeed in school. Boyd-Kennedy said the university volunteers make the program special.

"They see and get to be with and are mentored by students who are in college and who have sometimes faced the same challenges to get where they are," Boyd-Kennedy said. "It's really inspiring for them I think to see students who have reached that goal of being in college."