Black admission figures debated


Published: Thursday, September 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 31, 2005 at 6:49 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - As state college students begin another fall term, many schools are reporting a decline in the percentage of black students admitted to some of Florida's 11 public universities.
That trend has state Sen. Les Miller, D-Tampa, worried. As the Senate Democratic leader and a member of the Florida Caucus of Black State Legislators, Miller said he is among those who questioned whether Gov. Jeb Bush's 1999 initiative to end race-based university admissions would ultimately hurt minority students.
"Many of us said it was going to happen and we're now seeing it happen," Miller said.
When Bush announced his "One Florida" initiative in 1999, blacks accounted for 18.1 percent of the admitted university students. That dropped to 16.6 percent last year and could dip as far as 14.7 percent this fall, according to preliminary data given to the state Board of Governors last month. Blacks comprise 16.2 percent of the state's population.
Miller said he is not surprised by the figures, which he says show a decline in diversity on the state university campuses. He also said the numbers reflect the fact that black students have fewer programs to guarantee them a place in the universities. And he said it is indicative of the unmet demand for more need-based aid and scholarships for all students.
Miller said the governor's One Florida initiative should be reviewed, although he concedes that major changes are not likely to happen in a Republican-led Legislature.
"I think we need to go back and look at that to make sure that the makeup of our state university system looks like the state," Miller said. "We need to start looking at putting some programs back into place, putting more money into need-based scholarships."
But others defend the governor's education initiative, noting that while it eliminated race-based admission decisions, it has sparked an array of other programs designed to put more students, including minorities, in state universities.
The state now allows all 10th-grade students to take the preliminary SAT and guarantees a spot in one of the state's universities to all students who finish in the top 20 percent of their high school classes. State programs also encourage more students to take Advanced Placement courses and the SAT.
"We're bringing students of all backgrounds to see themselves as 'college material,' " said Alia Faraj, the governor's communications director. "More students are enrolling in college because more students are now better prepared for the rigors of a university education."
And while the admission numbers for black students may have shown a small decline, the same statistics show more Hispanic students, as a percentage of total admissions, are being admitted to state universities during the 1999-2005 period.
Preliminary numbers show Hispanic students may account for 17.2 percent of this year's admissions, up from 16 percent last year. And it is a significant gain from the 13.5 percent admission rate in 1999.
Supporters of the governor's One Florida initiative also say it's important to realize the total number of minority students who actually enroll in state schools has also risen substantially over the last six years. They also say the fact that the entire university system continues to grow needs to be considered.
Minorities have seen an overall gain of 42 percent in university enrollment since 1999, said Bill Edmonds, a spokesman for the state university system. Black students have seen a 20 percent gain in their enrollment numbers, while Hispanic students have had a 71 percent increase.
"The key point is this: enrollment is up, not down, for minority students (in) each and every group," Edmonds said. "Expanding enrollment means we can let more of everyone in."

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