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It is almost high school graduation season, and here's some positive news: Latino high school grads are entering colleges and universities at an all-time high rate. That's according a new study. Hansi Lo Wang from Code Switch - NPR's new reporting team on race and ethnicity - has more.

SANDRA MARTINEZ: Do you guys have any questions of all the things that you need to do?

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Sandra Martinez stands at the front of the classroom, giving directions to her team of Latino high school and college students. They're at a community center in Maryland preparing for a day of community service activities with younger students from a local high school.

MARTINEZ: They're going to shadow you. And if you're in college, and you have already applied for college, you encourage them. Because that's what the teacher is doing. He wants to make sure that they see all the young Latinos that are doing stuff like this, they encourage them.

WANG: Martinez is 30 and still a student, studying for her bachelor's and master's degrees in social work. Between hitting the books and raising her teenage daughter, she works here, encouraging Latino youth to set a college degree in their sights earlier than she did.

College, I think most of us Latinos, we think that it's not for us. I would say, for me, when I was younger growing up, that was never mentioned. There was no more higher dream after high school. And I think that now, with the generation improving or the kids becoming more Americanized and whatnot, it's helping.

MARCELLO SUAREZ-OROZCO: I think the story here is really the story of the maturing of the second generation.

WANG: Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, dean of UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, says the increase of Latinos entering college is part of a natural cycle of the American immigration story. A new report by the Pew Hispanic Center finds that seven in 10 Latino high school graduates in the class of 2012 went to college.

That's a record-high college enrollment rate for Latinos. It's the first time Latinos have surpassed white and black students, even as they lag behind Asian-Americans. And it comes just as the Latino high school dropout rate has fallen by half over the past decade. Again, Suarez-Orozco.

SUAREZ-OROZCO: These are U.S.-born kids, and they are kids that have higher ambitions. They want to do better than their parents. And they're connecting with colleges.

WANG: Eighteen-year-old Jackeline Lizama of Silver Spring, Maryland, is planning to connect with her local community college after her high school graduation. It's in a few weeks, and it can't come soon enough.

JACKELINE LIZAMA: I'm happy to get out of the daily routine and move on to something bigger and better.

WANG: Bigger and better will be, first, community college, and eventually, she hopes, a career in law enforcement. Lizama says not all of her Latino classmates feel that they can afford to make a similar financial investment.

LIZAMA: They're thinking, oh, my parents can barely do it now. How am I going to pay off a loan if I get a loan? How am I going to do it?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WANG: Lizama's local community college in Maryland sponsors a Spanish-language radio show to help students and parents navigate the college application process.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Spanish spoken)

WANG: Today, a little under half of Latino students are enrolled in community colleges, and for those who do go on to four-year colleges, they're more likely to drop out than other students. That worries Marcelo Suarez-Orozco of UCLA.

SUAREZ-OROZCO: They are the future of our country. This is not a narrow demographic question, pertinent to only one group in the American mosaic.

WANG: This is, he insists, fundamental to all of us. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News.

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