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University system tries to embrace 'Talented 20'

Despite a court challenge, the system strives to accommodate the top 20 percent of high school graduates as defined by Gov. Jeb Bush's plan.

By BARRY KLEIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 2000


Despite a legal challenge, Florida's top university official said Friday that freshman seats will be made available this fall to high school students who graduate in the top 20 percent of their class.

"We will have a process to ensure that each of these students has a place in our state university system," Chancellor Adam Herbert said during a conference call with university presidents and members of the Board of Regents.

A spokesman later said Herbert's pledge does not constitute an admission guarantee, a primary element of Gov. Jeb Bush's "Talented 20" plan, which is being challenged in court by the NAACP.

"This is an effort to reach out to those students who would have had a guaranteed seat if the university system had been allowed to implement the Talented 20," said university system spokesman Keith Goldschmidt.

Bush created the Talented 20 plan as an alternative to race-based admissions, which his controversial One Florida initiative eliminates. Officials say the plan would have brought in up to 400 additional minority students.

The regents approved the Talented 20 in February, but the legal challenge is unlikely to be decided before June. By then, several Florida universities will be wrapping up their fall admissions.

Goldschmidt said the chancellor's pledge assumes the university system receives enough money from the Legislature to open 2,000 additional freshman spaces this fall.

Many of the Talented 20 students would come in through the regular admissions process. Those who have completed the required 19 academic credits but still don't meet the state's minimum admission standards could be accepted through the system's alternative admissions process.

Herbert said last week that university presidents would have the option of considering race when choosing so-called "alternative admits."

Goldschmidt said Friday that option won't be exercised. "All of the presidents have assured the chancellor that they are not using race as a consideration," he said.

University system officials are still awaiting the list of Florida students who would have qualified for the Talented 20. It is being compiled by the state Department of Education and is expected to be ready by the end of next week.

- Times Washington bureau chief Sara Fritz contributed to this report.

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