Washington (CNN) -- Twenty-one-year-old Erica Ruiz plans to graduate from college in the spring with a degree in psychology and continue on to graduate school. Her family is from Mexico, but she and her two brothers were born in the United States.
"My parents always encouraged me to go to college and get educated because they didn't get the opportunity," she said of her mother and father, both farm workers.
Ruiz is part of a recent increase in the number of Hispanics attending college in the United States -- a figure that spiked last year and even surpassed that of young blacks, according to a study released last week by the Pew Hispanic Center, part of the Pew Research Center.
In 2010, approximately 1.8 million Hispanic students aged 18 to 24 were enrolled in college, the study showed. In the same age group, there were 1.7 million African-American students enrolled, although when students of all ages were counted, blacks outnumbered Hispanics.
Analyzing U.S. Census Bureau data, the researchers found that in 2010, Hispanic enrollment surged by 24% over the previous year. For that same time period, college enrollment for blacks and Asians also increased, but not as dramatically as that of Hispanics.
Although the enrollment of white students decreased to 7.7 million, the study showed, whites still make up the vast majority of college students.
Researcher Richard Fry, who worked on the Pew study, attributes the gains in Hispanic enrollment to the overall population increase of Hispanics and an increase in the number of Hispanics graduating from high school, making them eligible to go to college.
"Improving the educational attainment of young Hispanics would improve the long-term socioeconomic prospects of the nation's largest minority group," Fry said. "It would not only be beneficial for Hispanics themselves but would also raise the education and skills of the nation's future work force."
Raul Gonzalez, the legislative director for the National Council of La Raza, a Latino civil rights and advocacy group, noted that "a spike does not a trend make."
"We are hoping that this carries through to be more of a trend," Gonzalez said of the findings.
Gonzalez gives some credit for the gains to the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind law.
"It's been about a decade of the No Child Left Behind policy. We are one of the few groups that still likes that law," he said. "I don't think it's coincidental that (the increased Hispanic enrollment is) coming at a time when a cohort of kids has gone through a school career under No Child Left Behind."
There was a 4% decline in college enrollment among young whites since 2009, the largest drop since at least 1993, the study showed. This is at least partly due to a decrease in the 18- to 24-year-old white population.
Ruiz said she sees her college education as part of the American dream, and she's encouraging her brothers to take advantage of their educational opportunities as well.