Using recent Census Bureau data, the Washington think-tank found a record seven-in-10 (69 percent) of Hispanic high school students in the class of 2012 went on to college, compared with 67 percent of white high school graduates.
That's a major shift from as recently as 2000, when only 49 percent of Hispanic high school graduates went straight to college the following fall.
Hispanic high school dropout rates have declined by nearly 50 percent since 2000.
In its analysis, Pew said in 2011 only 14 percent of Hispanics ages 16-24 years were high school dropouts, half of the 28 percent level in 2000. The high school dropout rate among white students fell from 7 percent in 2000 to 5 percent in 2011.
The data indicated the recession of 2008 was a major factor in the long-term increase in Hispanic high school graduates enrolling in college as it become more difficult to find jobs requiring just a high school diploma.
"Despite the narrowing of some of these long-standing educational attainment gaps, Hispanics continue to lag whites in a number of key higher educational measures," Pew said in a release. "Young Hispanic college students are less likely than their white counterparts to enroll in a four-year college (56 percent versus 72 percent), they are less likely to attend a selective college, less likely to be enrolled in college full time, and less likely to complete a bachelor's degree."
The report, "Hispanic High School Graduates Pass Whites in Rate of College Enrollment," is available on the Pew Hispanic Center's website.