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Black enrollment still lagging at Florida universities

Just 52 black freshmen, 606 overall, enrolled this fall at Florida's 11 public universities. Hispanic enrollment is higher.

By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published September 9, 2006


A year after Florida's university leaders fretted over a dramatic drop in black student enrollment, preliminary figures show the number of black students in Florida's 11 public universities this fall rose by 1.6 percent.

That amounts to just 606 students. It's nowhere near as impressive as the additional 3,335 Hispanic students who showed up on the first day of classes, and it doesn't mirror the nearly 3 percent rise in overall enrollment.

Moreover, figures show only 52 of the 606 black students are attending college for the first time, meaning black freshmen enrollment is up just 1 percent from last fall.

Institutions including the University of South Florida, the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida saw increases in overall Hispanic and black enrollment.

But freshman enrollment of black students dropped at all universities except UF, Florida A&M University, the University of West Florida and New College. Systemwide, black students are less than 14 percent of the population - the same as last fall.

University system chancellor Mark Rosenberg said he isn't worried yet about the numbers because this early in the academic year there are many unknowns.

He suspects more students are enrolling in community colleges now that the Bright Futures merit scholarship program can be used to cover tuition there.

"Community colleges expected to pick up a few more students, and that may be what's happening," Rosenberg said. "But we don't have that data yet. I have to see those numbers to know what is happening."

Critics of Gov. Jeb Bush's 1999 decision to abolish the use of racial preferences in favor of an enrollment plan dubbed One Florida say the numbers are evidence that Bush's plan isn't working.

"It is an 'I-told-you-so' situation," said state Sen. Les Miller, D-Tampa.

Miller and other critics had predicted that Bush's One Florida plan, which includes a provision granting university admission to the top 20 percent of each high school's graduating class, would do little or nothing to increase black enrollment.

Overall, first-day enrollment in the state's universities grew 2.6 percent, or 7,300 students, compared with the start of classes last fall.

All colleges except New College and historically black FAMU had more students.

Total minority enrollment increased 4.8 percent, or 4,709 students, with most of the rise coming from Hispanic students.

Minority students now account for 35.7 percent of students in the 11 institutions, up from 35 percent in fall 2005.

Much of the university system's minority and overall growth was in the upper levels - among graduate and professional students - even though state officials have made it a priority to improve the pipeline from high school to college.

Bush recently signed legislation creating the First Generation Matching Grant Program, which sets aside $23-million for students who are the first in their family to attend college.

But at the same time, many universities are focusing on growing their graduate student populations because they don't have enough room or state financial support for large influxes of undergraduates.

USF, the state's third-largest university with more than 43,000 students, is boosting its graduate and doctoral students in an effort to increase its national recognition as a research university, USF president Judy Genshaft said in a recent interview.

"Yes, we're big. Now we're raising the quality level," she said. "We want the prestige, the national rankings."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 813 226-3403 or svansickler@sptimes.com.

[Last modified September 9, 2006, 06:11:10]


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