(CBS News) For the first time, Hispanic students are the largest minority group on college campuses across the country -- making up 16.5 percent of American college students, a Pew study found.
The number of 18- to 24-year-old Hispanics enrolled in four-year colleges exceeded 2 million in 2011, further evidence of how the country's largest minority group is not only growing but outpacing other minority groups. The study also found that a record 23.9 percent of all pre-K to 12th grade public school students in 2011 were Hispanic, an indication that the group's ranks in higher education will likely continue to grow.
And although graduation rates among Hispanics continue to lag behind those of non-Hispanic white students, the Pew study found the number of Latinos graduating with bachelors or associates degrees increased seven-fold the past four decades. In 2010, 140,000 Latinos received bachelors degrees and 112,000 received associates degrees -- both record highs, according to data published by the U.S. Department of Education.
The Pew analysis, which is based on newly available U.S. Census Bureau data, noted the record high Latino populations on college campuses is "a significant milestone because for the first time Hispanic representation among the nation's traditional college-student population matched Hispanics' overall population representation."
Among the 30 million people ages 18 to 24 years old, 6 million, or 20 percent, are Hispanic, according the Pew Research Center, making them the largest minority group in the country. Between 1972 and 2011, the percentage of Latino students in that age group steadily grew from 2.9 percent to 16.5 percent.
Now, a record share of young Hispanics are now eligible to attend college as well, Pew found. In 2011, 76 percent of Hispanics age 18 to 24 had finished high school, the highest level to date.
The milestone comes as Hispanic play a more and more significant role in the electorate, being a highly sought after voting bloc from both presidential campaigns. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials estimates about 12 million Latinos will vote in the upcoming election. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, the swing state of Florida has the third-largest Latino population in the country.