Latinos, older students fuel enrollment growth at Massachusetts’ public colleges, universities, report says

Enrollment has risen at many public colleges and universities across Massachusetts, fueled in large part by an increase in Latino students and older students, according to a new state analysis.

The number of undergraduates on public campuses is increasing even as the state’s high school population is slowly declining.

“The data tell an important story, namely that many of our campuses continue to see remarkable growth while also serving as critical gateways for underserved populations,” Richard M. Freeland, state commissioner of higher education, said in a statement Tuesday.

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Between 2008 and 2011, Latino student enrollment in the state’s public colleges increased 50 percent while non-Latino enrollment rose 7 percent. Enrollment by students 25 or older increased by 21 percent, compared with 6 percent for students under 25, according to the study by the state Education Department.

The analysis also revealed significant one-year enrollment increases at five state college campuses: Framingham State University, 6.2 percent; the University of Massachusetts Lowell, 5 percent; Fitchburg State University, 4.3 percent; Bunker Hill Community College, 4 percent; and Northern Essex Community College, 3.9 percent.

UMass Lowell has led the UMass campuses in undergraduate enrollment growth the past three years; Bunker Hill has similarly led in growth at the community college level. Framingham State has topped the state university system in enrollment growth the past two years.

Last month, state education officials released “Time to Lead,” a wide-ranging report on the status of Massachusetts public higher education that is part of the two-year-old Vision Project. The project is the first comprehensive, public, data-driven comparison with other states that Massachusetts has ever undertaken.

The data show that while droves of students enroll in the state’s public colleges, many ultimately find themselves underprepared for college-level work and drop out. Freeland said the numbers are a call for the state to do better.