The Florida board of regents voted 12-0 late last week to ban race and gender as factors in college admissions and replace it with a program guaranteeing high achievers automatic admission to the state’s 10 public colleges and universities.
Under the program, students who graduate in the top 20 percent of their high school classes would be eligible for admission to public institutions next fall, provided they had completed 10 required courses in high school, said Keith Goldschmidt, a spokesman for the state regents, who oversee higher education. College recruiters would be allowed, however, to take into consideration students’ socioeconomic status, the quality of their high schools, and whether their parents earned college degrees.
The “Talented 20" admissions program is part of the controversial “One Florida” plan that Gov. Jeb Bush directed the state to implement in a Nov. 19 executive order. For the plan’s education components to take effect, the order requires approval from the regents as well as the state board of education, of which the Republican governor serves as chairman. The board of education, which oversees both K-12 and higher education in Florida, is slated to consider the plan this week, and is expected to approve it.
The regents’ unanimous vote on Feb. 17 “was no surprise at all,” Mr. Goldschmidt said. They made only a handful of changes to the plan, including the addition of language stating the state’s commitment to diversity on Florida’s campuses, he added.
In addition to banning race-based admissions policies, the One Florida initiative would provide additional need-based student financial aid, increase the number of Advanced Placement and college-preparation courses in low-performing schools, mandate that the Preliminary SAT be made available to all 10th graders, and create a task force to study inequalities between wealthy and poor school districts. It also would end the practice of requiring that a certain portion of state contracts be set aside for women and members of racial and ethnic minorities
The plan unleashed a storm of protest around the state. But Mr. Bush has made few concessions.
“Nothing I have heard has convinced me that we should continue the status quo practices of quotas, set-asides, and price preferences,” the governor said last week during a press conference in Tallahassee.
Proponents of the Talented 20 program say that it would afford students of all races and economic backgrounds access to higher education. Recent figures from the board of regents show that an additional 400 minority students would qualify for admission next fall if the One Florida initiative is enacted. Currently, 35 percent of the 220,000 students enrolled at state institutions are members of minority groups.
Critics, however, argue that poorly prepared students would be admitted to top institutions, left to flounder, then drop out of school, never to return. Many also say the plan doesn’t rectify past wrongs against African-Americans, as was the intent of race-based admissions policies.
“The governor’s plan is untested, unproven, and dependent upon the executive discretion of the governor’s office,” U.S. Rep. Carrie P. Meek, a Democrat who represents the largest black community in Miami, said at a hearing on the plan this month.
Moreover, poorly prepared students may cost institutions huge sums for remediation, she argued, and cheapen the value of a college degree should such unskilled students slip through and graduate.
“What will a college degree mean for those students—other than more debt?” asked Ms. Meek, a former college administrator who was one of the more than 300 witnesses who testified in three recent public hearings on the One Florida plan. The hearings drew more than 6,300 citizens, many of whom were angry.
Besides the hearings, Mr. Bush’s plan prompted black state lawmakers to stage a 25-hour sit-in in the governor’s office suite on Jan. 18. (“Bush Agrees to Hearings on Florida Admissions Proposal,” Feb. 2, 2000.)
And earlier this month, 2,000 students from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, the historically black institution in Tallahassee that serves a majority of Florida’s African-American students, held a protest march at the state Capitol.
Following the protests, Mr. Bush last week announced the formation of a commission to assess the effectiveness of the One Florida plan over the next three years. The governor also asked higher education officials to perform “an exhaustive programmatic review” of the plan.
State Rep. Lesley Miller Jr., a Democratic member of the House’s black caucus, dismissed the governor’s latest concessions as “minuscule.” “That was nothing more than him trying to appease the roar of the people here,” he said.
A version of this article appeared in the February 23, 2000 edition of Education Week as Plan To Ban Race in Admissions To Fla. Colleges Clears Regents