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U.S. colleges see highest enrollment jump in 40 years.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation's colleges are attracting record numbers of new students as more Hispanics finish high school and young adults opt to pursue a higher education rather than languish in a weak job market.

A study released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center highlights the growing diversity in higher education amid debate over the role of race in college admissions and controversy over Arizona's new ban on ethnic studies in public schools.

Newly released government figures show that freshman enrollment surged 6% in 2008 to a record 2.6 million, mostly due to rising minority enrollment. That is the highest increase since 1968 during the height of the Vietnam War, when young adults who attended college could avoid the military draft.

Almost three-quarters of the freshman increases in 2008 were minorities, of which the largest share was Hispanics

Among the findings:

• Freshman enrollment of Hispanics in higher education jumped by 15% in 2008, compared to 8% for blacks, 6% for Asians and 3% for whites.
• The share of 18- to 24-year-olds who earned a high school diploma reached an all-time high of 85%, up from 84% in 2007. Among Asians, the number was 92%, whites 90%, blacks 79% and Hispanics 70%.
• Colleges showing the largest freshmen increases included Fresno City College in California, jumping 448% to 2,998 students; Arizona State University, rising 21% to 8,458; and American Public University System in West Virginia, increasing 332% to 121 students.

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