A front-page story in Tuesday’s Washington Post examines former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s record on ending affirmative action for college admissions. Through a 2000 executive order, Bush banned racial preferences in Florida’s public universities and colleges. The move was controversial at the time and prompted massive protests in Tallahassee.
As Bush prepares to launch a presidential campaign, the Republican’s defense of the decision is that more black and Hispanic students are attending Florida public universities than ever before. A 2009 analysis from the Tampa Bay Times supports Bush’s claim.
The Post, however, has a different story to tell about the current state of minority enrollment at Florida’s two flagship schools:
But at Florida’s two premier universities, black enrollment is shrinking. At the University of Florida in Gainesville and at Florida State University in Tallahassee, administrators say they worry that the trend risks diminishing their standing as world-class universities and hurts the college experience.
The black share of the UF freshman class, for instance, plunged to 6 percent in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available. That is down from 9 percent in 2011.
“If we don’t address this in the next two or three years, I think we’re going to have a problem,” said Brandon Bowden, assistant vice president for student affairs at Florida State, which had a 15 percent drop in the number of black freshmen enrolled between 2000 and 2009. “There will be so few black students on our campus that prospective students [who are black] will choose not to come here because they see no one who looks like them.”
Much of the “crowding out” taking place, the Bush camp insists, has to do with the explosion in Florida’s young Hispanic population, and the percentage of Hispanic enrollment is indeed up since 2000. Black enrollment is down throughout the university system, but just slightly, and that is at least partially due to problems surrounding Florida’s historically black colleges. The largest of them, Florida A&M University, has seen declining enrollment in recent years along with accreditation issues.
But the problem the Post cites at the state’s top tier universities is supposedly a one-two punch for black students. Not only has ending affirmative action meant fewer black students at UF and FSU, but their scarcity at those schools leads to all kinds of wrong assumptions about how those black students arrived on campus. Here’s more from the Post:
Most were not even in elementary school yet when Bush’s plan was enacted; “affirmative action” to them is little more than a glossary item in a textbook.
“It’s funny they say Jeb Bush ended affirmative action,” said Dashari Kearse, a 20-year-old linguistics major from Orlando who sports a small Afro and wire-rim glasses. “People still think I got in because I’m a minority.”
The Post uses Kearse to demonstrate how even those black students who have made it to Florida's top public schools have been negatively affected by the elimination of affirmative action. Thanks to Bush’s decision to end the policy, Kearse was accepted to the University of Florida on his own merits, even if his classmates incorrectly assume otherwise.