Florida Governor Touts Minority Enrollment IncreaseAfter Racial Preferences Ban
Critics are more cautious, saying it’s too early to celebrate
By Gary Fineout
The number of minorities attending Florida’s public universities increased by nearly 12 percent this fall despite new rules ending the use of racial preferences in college admissions.
Gov. Jeb Bush hailed the increase as proof that his controversial One Florida Initiative is working, but the actual percentage of minorities among this year’s freshman class remains relatively unchanged from a year ago.
Both Bush and the State University System of Florida’s chancellor, Dr. Adam Herbert say that Florida deserves credit for avoiding the drop-off in minority enrollments that occurred in California and Texas due to anti-affirmative action referendums and court decisions.
“This should be considered a great day for our state,” Bush says. “We have defied the experience of other states. We have increased opportunities at our flagship universities for minorities.”
Herbert, who is African American, gave credit to university officials for increasing their outreach efforts to minority high schools and pushing ahead with a more aggressive approach to recruiting minority students.
The Florida governor, who is the younger brother of Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush, first unveiled his plan for race-neutral university admissions last November as part of an overall plan to end affirmative action at the state level.
The Board of Regents ended racial preferences last February and put in its place the Talented 20 proposal that guaranteed university admission to any student who graduated in the top 20 percent of their high school class.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed a lawsuit against the changes but a state judge threw out the challenge this summer (see Black Issues, Aug. 3). The organization has since appealed the ruling.
The preliminary numbers released by the State University System in September show that this year’s freshman class includes 1,234 more Asians, African Americans, Hispanics and American Indians than the 1999 class.
But the increase comes at a time when Florida has the largest freshman class in history. Just two years ago, the state’s 10 universities enrolled 20,053 first-time students. This year, the system had a freshman class of 32,146, of which 5,643 are African American; 180 are American Indian; 1,646 are Asian; and 4,369 are Hispanic/Latino. This 60 percent increase of total students since 1998, means Hispanic and Black students still account for nearly the same percentage in the freshman class as they did a year ago.
The freshman class of 1999 was 61 percent White, 14 percent Hispanic and 17.56 percent African American. This year the breakdown is 61 percent White, 13.5 percent Hispanic and 17.55 percent African American.
Those who have challenged Bush over his One Florida Initiative say it is encouraging that more minorities were enrolled this fall. But they also say it is too early for Bush to claim victory.
“It’s a little premature for the governor to plant the flag and say ‘I told you so, everything is OK,'” says State Sen. Kendrick Meek, who staged a day-long sit-in to protest Bush’s proposals last January in the Lt. Governor’s office.
“We’ve been down this road before where it looks good in the first few days,” says Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida State Conference of Branches NAACP, who worries that attention to minority enrollment will diminish over the next several years.
One problem is that no one knows yet how many students were admitted under the new policies, which include alternative admission methods using factors such as socioeconomics and geography in place of racial preferences.
Florida officials also have no way to compare the new race-neutral policies to past affirmative action efforts. Florida’s universities only kept track of the minority students who failed to meet minimum statewide standards but were admitted to achieve diversity in the student body.
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