Bush plan aims to lift minority enrollment

Published: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 10, 2006 at 10:07 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - Citing a small drop in minority enrollment at Florida's universities, Gov. Jeb Bush is expected to announce today a $52.5 million, multi-pronged offensive to reverse the trend before it accelerates.
The largest chunk of the proposal to lawmakers is a nearly $36 million increase in financial aid for lower income students. Bush said the increase in Florida Student Assistance Grants would provide up to $1,152 for more than 116,000 students.
But Bush is focusing on a new program that would target Florida students who are the first in their family to attend college.
Bush's $6.5 million proposal would give money to universities, which would then match that state grant with their own foundation money. The combined money would provide scholarships for low-income Florida students who would be the first in their family to attend college.
Bush said the structure should be flexible, so more students can be included. He also said it's not intended as a full-ride scholarship, but to "fill the gap" for students finding that a Bright Futures scholarship and other assistance still isn't enough to pay for college.
Bush admits to stealing the idea from University of Florida President Bernie Machen.
"We've gotten great response from the universities," Bush said. "In fact, this is probably the most exciting (of the proposals) for them."
Since Bush took office in 1999, black enrollment at the state's universities has increased 28 percent to 40,141 and Hispanic enrollment has grown nearly 50 percent to 46,002.
In December, state officials noted a decline of 34 minority students enrolling in Florida's universities. While there are more incoming minority students from Florida, out-of-state minority enrollment dropped.
Bush and others ascribe the drop to quickly rising tuition for out-of-state students. The state last year allowed universities to begin setting their own tuition rates for out-of-state and graduate programs.
"If we're going to have a restricted number of students" from out of state, Bush said, "we've got to fill that void."
Bush said he spoke with students at predominantly black Florida A&M University late last year to gather ideas on how to increase minority enrollment.
Bush is also proposing a new mentoring program to encourage university students to work with middle school students and provide a first-hand example of the availability of a college education.
"The best way to encourage, particularly the under-represented populations and African-American males would be the biggest group, is to do it peer-to-peer," Bush said.
And in addition to the $36 million increase for Florida Student Assistance Grants, Bush is proposing $1.1 million for need-based scholarships at Florida's three private, historically black colleges - Bethune-Cookman College, Edward Waters College and Florida Memorial University.
Bush is also recommending a $1 million increase in the Stanley Tate Project STARS program, which will help low-income students who agree to steer clear of drugs and crimes while mentoring others.
"We need to increase a variety of needs-based programs to make sure access to education is not just for the affluent," Bush said, saying there's been a nearly 200 percent increase in such aid in the past eight years.
Bush is also proposing increases in the College Board partnership, which funds high school assistance for minority students, including test preparedness and tutoring programs.
Cheryl Williams, the assistant director of recruitment and retention for UF, said the school is prepared to help incoming students who don't have a family or social history of college education.
She said money to pay for tuition is the biggest hurdle. But offering a welcoming environment is also important. The university will provide special programs to allow those students to visit professors, adapt to the campus and find appropriate social networks in the summer before they begin school.
"It takes a large campus and makes it very small and intimate for that student," she said.

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