Three years after intensifying efforts to recruit minority students, the University of South Florida (USF) has achieved only modest increases in its share of black students and other minorities and still ranks next to last among Florida's nine universities. USF officials, however, are boasting about what they call a "substantial" increase in the actual number of black students on campus. They point out that, in this highly competitive arena, students are recruited and won one at a time, so the university is happy to count them the same way.
"Black students are always perhaps the most difficult group to attract to your campus, because everyone is recruiting black students quite rigorously," William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions at Harvard, said recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a national weekly.
"It hasn't been the easiest thing in the world to do," agreed Samuel Wright, head of minority recruiting at USF.
But with a lot of personal attention, USF has been able to attract talented minority students, including two black valedictorians and a black salutatorian in the incoming freshman class, Wright said.
USF also has done a better job of developing support systems to help black students feel at home when they are often outnumbered, Wright said. "In general, (black students) are feeling better about this environment."
The retention rate among black undergraduates _ a good measure of student satisfaction _ has risen sharply since last year, though it still lags behind the rate for white students, officials say.
USF officials are especially pleased with an increase in black graduate students this year, regarded as the most competitive area of minority student recruiting.
The university's publicity office says USF may be one of the few universities in the country to show an increase in minority graduate students, although officials acknowledge they have no formal evidence to prove it.
Richard Mansell, associate dean of the graduate school, said he recently compared notes with his counterparts at Florida's other universities, and none had been as successful as USF at recruiting minorities. Most showed declines, he said.
"Every graduate student that you recruit is a victory. That is difficult," said Patrick Riordan, a spokesman for the state university system.
USF president Francis Borkowski made minority recruiting a priority when he arrived on campus in early 1988. That year black students constituted 3.6 percent of total enrollment.
The next academic year, 1988-89, the share of black students increased to 4 percent, and again to 4.4 percent in 1989-90.
This fall, however, while the number of black students and several other minorities continued to grow faster than whites, the amount of increase was smaller, to 4.6 percent.
For several years, USF has ranked eighth among the nine state universities in minority enrollment, although its urban location is often presumed to be an advantage.
Other urban universities such as Florida International University in Miami and the University of North Florida in Jacksonville have substantially higher percentages of black students.
USF officials have emphasized increasing minority enrollment the past few years. Since last year, the portion of blacks, ethnic Asians and foreign students has continued to rise slowly, while the portion of white students has declined. The portion of Hispanics and American Indians stayed about the same.
1989 % of total 1990 % of total % change
Black 1,386 4.4 1,477 4.6 + 6.6
Hispanic 1,733 5.5 1,793 5.6 + 3.5
Asian 738 2.3 874 2.7 +18.4
American Indian 39 0.1 38 0.1 - 2.6
Non-resident alien 707 2.2 762 2.4 + 7.8
Non-Hispanic white 27,035 85.4 27,416 84.7 + 1.4
Total 31,638 32,360 + 2.3