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Minority Student Success

By Jeb Bush
Friday, December 31, 2004; Page A29

In a news article on Nov. 22, The Post reported on a drop in admissions of black students at several flagship universities nationwide. I am proud to report that Florida is not among those affected. We are having notable success in higher education for minorities, largely because we concentrate on education, not just enrollment.

Our 1999 "One Florida" plan predated last year's University of Michigan case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that universities could continue using race as a factor in admissions. In university admission decisions and in state government contracts, Florida has, under this program, become race-neutral. And, contrary to gloomy predictions in some quarters, the state university system has not suffered, nor have minority students.

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Extensive efforts are being made to attract African American and other minority students to apply to our 11 universities. In 2003 more than 37 percent of Florida university students who were in college for the first time were from minority groups. Minority enrollment on Florida college campuses has risen to 34 percent.

But we are not satisfied with merely trying to attract more minority students to our higher education institutions. We are focused on better preparing minority students in kindergarten through 12th grade so they will aspire to succeed in college -- and be able to do so.

We have a formal partnership with the College Board, for example, that helps us reach potential college students in underserved areas. Through this partnership, more minority students are taking the preliminary SAT -- nearly four times as many African Americans last year as in 1999. In addition, Florida leads the nation in the number of minority students taking Advanced Placement exams.

These methods result in a wider pool of applicants, from which minorities are not excluded, as they were in the past. The natural result is a larger number of minority applicants being accepted.

Just admitting students is not the goal, however. We want these minority students to complete their higher education. Each year, the magazine Black Issues in Higher Education ranks the top 100 colleges that produce degrees for minority students. This year eight Florida universities were on the list. The University of Florida was 19th, and Florida International University was third.

Although we have had short-term success, I am confident our education reforms will result in even greater minority participation in higher education in future years, because we have a comprehensive approach to education that focuses on teacher quality and training, accountability measures that help us identify and assist troubled schools, and school choice programs for low-income and disabled students, as well as those in failing schools.

Next year we begin a voluntary pre-kindergarten program that will give 4-year-old children the advantage of preparation that research shows can be highly beneficial.

Our policy assumes all children can learn, and we intend to ensure that they do, regardless of race or other factors, to the extent that government can influence results. Offering school choice where needed has helped strengthen our public schools, according to one study. Identifying and mentoring troubled schools, setting high standards, and holding the schools accountable for results also has made a difference.

In Florida, we don't push unprepared children forward. Nor do we separate them by racial classification. We maintain that the best way to ensure minority participation in higher education is to provide the same opportunities and support to all students and to hold all students to the same standards.

The experience in other states cited by The Post indicates the challenges, but we think Florida is well on the way toward a seamless system that will begin preparing students as early as age 4, and take them to a meaningful high school diploma at the least, and to college and beyond if they choose.

The writer, a Republican, is governor of Florida.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company