Entering the second year of the One Florida Initiative, Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan announced an increase of minority enrollment in the State University System.
At a news conference Wednesday afternoon in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center, Brogan said the preliminary university enrollment numbers show an additional 577 first-time-in-college minority students attending Florida?s 11 state universities ? a 5 percent increase from last year.
And while Brogan said he was proud of the increase of minority enrollment, he also said there is still more work to be done, such as reaching out to students in Florida.
?We recognize that while the numbers are still not where we want them to be, we are committed to making certain that any student in the state of Florida, no matter where he comes from, no matter who they are, who are ready, willing and able to go on to a life in one of our universities, has access and opportunity to do that,? Brogan said.
USF was one of the universities where minority enrollment increased. Brogan said there were an additional 144 black students entering USF this year ? an 80 percent increase from fall 2000. There also was an increase in Hispanic students, 80 enrolling at USF for the first time ? 20 percent more than last year, Brogan said.
Brogan praised USF and President Judy Genshaft for embracing the One Florida Initiative through outreach programs and minority recruitment.
?Many students now know they can go to college if they work hard and if they study hard,? he said.
?Perhaps for the first time in their family, they have access to a post- secondary education.?
Minority enrollment also increased at Florida State University for both blacks and Hispanics. But first-time enrollment for black students decreased at the University of Florida from 829 in 2000 to 461 this year.
Brogan said one reason for the lower number of black students was that UF had an overall drop in enrollment of 800 students. He also said the state?s oldest university was the last institution to implement One Florida.
Recently, UF eliminated race-based scholarships. When asked if race-based scholarships would not be available for USF students, Genshaft said, ?No.?
Brogan said when One Florida was first proposed, opponents to the program that eliminates race preferences in university enrollment said there would be significant decreases in minorities entering a state university.
But now, due to the initiative, Brogan said people are more informed about opportunities for minority students.
?No one paid attention prior to One Florida,? Brogan said. ?People are paying attention more than ever before.?
The initiative caught the attention of the public when Gov. Jeb Bush first proposed to overhaul the state?s affirmative action policies. Two democratic lawmakers staged a sit-in at the governor?s office protesting the initiative.
But the Bush program gained a victory when an administrative judge ruled race could not be a factor to determine admission to a university.
Brogan said having the program in motion early helped with the state?s current enrollment statistics, and there were decreases in minority enrollment in states where a court ruled race could not be a preference in university enrollment.
?We are convinced because we got out in front of the issue and began a very positive and proactive approach to minority recruitment and enrollment,? Brogan said. ?We not only had an increase, but in some places remain strong in terms of minority enrollment.?
In addition to getting minority students into the university system, Jim Horne, secretary for the Florida Board of Education, said One Florida is important to retain the students who do enroll.
?It is not acceptable, as far as I?m concerned, that so many students don?t continue with their education,? Horne said.
Horne said he wants the student body presidents of each university to create student councils at their universities to provide input on keeping students in school.
?We want students to advise the board on what it will take from the student?s perspective to have successful careers at their university ? to make sure they continue to pursue their goals and their dreams,? Horne said.
Horne also said another focus of One Florida is to prepare high school students for college.
?It is not just about new students,? Horne said. ?More important is making sure students are prepared for college life.?
Part of the preparation is encouraging students to take the PSAT, the preparatory test for the Scholastic Aptitude Test. With One Florida, 10th grade students can take the test for free, Horne said.
Other aspects of the initiative include mentoring partnerships and online diagnostic tools, Horne said.
?So when we think about One Florida, let?s always not just get focused on admissions,? Horne said. ?It?s more than about admissions, it?s about preparing students for college, it?s about admitting students into college and it?s about retaining students in college.?
But some students attending the news conference wanted to know about the minority enrollment figures.
?I want to know about the number of diverse students at USF,? sophomore Dwayne Issacs said.
But for other students, such as freshman Ron Watson, the issue of race should not be a factor for university admissions.
?Students should show that they are capable of handling the work the university provides and will make a beneficial addition to our university,? Watson said, ?not admitted just because they are black and get them in college to just make their 5 percent increase.?