Minority enrollment holds steady
By BARRY KLEIN
© St. Petersburg Times,
TAMPA -- Gov. Jeb Bush's ban on racial preferences in university admissions caused little change in the racial mix of Florida's freshmen class this year, despite concerns about a possible meltdown in minority enrollment.
The percentage of black freshmen declined slightly in the state's 11 public universities. But the percentage of minority freshmen overall registered a tiny gain of one-fifth of 1 percent.
That was enough for state officials Wednesday to declare Bush's One Florida plan a clear success.
"I have heard opponent after opponent not suggest, but absolutely state, that if One Florida was put into place . . . we would see significant decreases across the board in the enrollment of minority students," said Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan, who announced the enrollment numbers at a University of South Florida news conference.
While that didn't happen in most of the schools -- USF, for example, showed sharp increases in both black and Hispanic freshman enrollment -- Brogan acknowledged significant problems at the University of Florida, the state's most elite school in terms of admissions.
Since Bush's order banned the the consideration of race in university admissions, the percentage of black freshmen at UF has dropped from 11.8 percent to 7.2 percent. The percentage of Hispanic students also has declined, from 12 percent to 11 percent.
In every other state where racial preferences were eliminated, it was the elite schools that suffered the worst declines in minority enrollment. It happened in California, Texas and Washington during the 1990s.
But Brogan said UF officials should have moved more quickly and aggressively in its recruiting. He also questioned why the university recently announced it has decided to stop awarding race-based scholarships.
UF officials said they made the change to avoid future court decisions they expect will make such scholarships illegal.
Brogan noted that none of Florida's other universities shared that concern, and said race-based scholarships are allowed under One Florida.
He said the governor will soon summon UF leaders to Tallahassee so they can explain their reasoning to him.
While Wednesday's announcement focused on minority enrollment, the subtext was clearly political.
The news conference was the second in two days in which Republicans have proclaimed progress under One Florida, a policy attacked by Democrats and minority leaders for crippling affirmative action in university admissions and state contracting.
On Tuesday, Bush announced that the state spent $550-million doing business last year with minority-owned companies. That was an increase of $165-million, he said.
Wednesday's agenda was university enrollment.
Democratic Party leaders were incensed by the "misleading spin" they said Brogan applied to the minority numbers.
At the news conference, Brogan said enrollment figures show an additional 577 minority freshmen entered the university system this fall -- an increase of 5 percent.
But those numbers fail to note that freshmen enrollment systemwide went up 4.5 percent, which is why the racial mix overall remains essentially unchanged.
The increase in African-American enrollment, in fact, was at a considerably slower pace than that of enrollment systemwide. The number of black freshmen grew by 127, an increase of only 2.3 percent.
"Jeb Bush simply can't accept that One Florida has failed," Florida Democratic Party Chairman Bob Poe said Wednesday. "He will apparently turn the numbers 180 degrees to place them in a favorable light."
There also were questions about why the governor's office chose to release enrollment figures from the first day of school rather than after students have finished dropping and adding courses, which are generally considered more accurate.
Brogan said the first-day figures allowed for better comparisons with last year. But those numbers can and do change -- enough, perhaps, to turn the slight gain in minority enrollment to a decrease. Final numbers for all the universities were unavailable Wednesday night.
However they were counted, the numbers were sweet news for USF President Judy Genshaft.
USF officials said their black freshmen enrollment was up a startling 39 percent from last year. Hispanic enrollment was up 35 percent.
The jump happened even as the university was getting hammered in the media, which has reported extensively on allegations of racism in the school's women's basketball program.
Nine black players have filed federal lawsuits against USF. CBS News was on campus this week reporting a story on their allegations and USF's racial climate.
Genshaft said the numbers prove that USF is "a welcoming environment for all students."
Those gains in diversity, however, did not come cheap. Many of the USF freshmen aren't being funded by the state, which this year steered enrollment growth to USF's regional campuses.
USF officials estimate they will have to cut $2.5-million from other areas to accommodate the new students.
State Education Secretary Jim Horne, who joined Brogan and Genshaft at the news conference, said he will soon convene a meeting of university presidents and admissions directors to discuss minority recruitment strategies.
Douglas Hartnagel, USF's associate vice president for enrollment planning and management, said his school simply worked harder this year.
Instead of approaching promising minority students when they are high school seniors, he said recruiters now are making contact during their junior year. They also are recruiting their parents.
Soon, he said, they may even dip into the area's middle schools.
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From the Times state desk
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