Published: Aug 31, 2011 3:09 AM EDT
Updated: Aug 31, 2011 4:22 AM EDT

LEE COUNTY, Fla. - New research from the Pew Hispanic Center found the number of young Hispanics attending college in the U.S. hit an all-time high.

According to the center, the total number of college students climbed to a record high of 12.2 million this past fall, driven in part by the increase in Hispanic students.

From 2009 to 2010, nearly 350,000 new Hispanic students enrolled in U.S. colleges, a 24 percent spike.

The center says the increase has likely been spurred by population growth and also by an emphasis on educational strides.

In Southwest Florida, the trend is similar. Edison State College says the latest enrollment numbers have the percentage of Hispanic students topping 20 percent.

"Over the last ten years, our Hispanic population has tripled," says Amy Teprovich, Director of Student Life.

Daisy Casas is starting her second year at Edison. She is the Vice President of Student Government and studies dental hygiene.

The 19-year-old was born in the U.S., but her parents are from Mexico. She will be the first in her family to go to college.

"They didn't have a chance, so they see that I have a chance, so it's really a big motivation," Casas says.

First-year Edison student Ana Luiza Flausino came to Fort Myers from Brazil to study Communication. She says education has always been a high-priority in her family, and the opportunities here are unmatched anywhere else.

"I have the time and support. I want to do a Master's degree and just keep going until I get tired of school," Flausino says.

For Casas, college is a way to better herself and her community.

"You can show your siblings, your friends, everybody else. You can be a role model and show them that education is important, and it can get you far," Casas says.