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UF's grad schools lag in minorities

In the two years since race was banned as a factor in Florida's graduate school admissions, black students have started to disappear from the University of Florida's law and business schools _ the traditional producers of the state's political and business leaders.

The number of black students admitted to the master's of business administration program at the state's most selective school is down to a handful _ less than 2.5 percent of students last year. The number of black students in their first year of law school has been cut in half.

Statewide, the percentage of black students starting on their MBAs fell to its lowest point in at least four years, while the number entering law school increased in 2002 with the opening of two law schools catering to minorities, according to Florida Department of Education statistics.

"At the University of Florida, and other institutions, minorities have fallen victim to the governor's plan," said U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, who protested the state's elimination of racial preferences in 2000. "It's the wrong signal to send to higher education."

UF administrators say they are disappointed with their minority enrollment, particularly the low number of black students, and need to do better. But, they say, they aren't sure what else to do.

"It's not something we are happy about," said Andrew McCollough, associate dean of UF's Warrington College of Business. "But we do all we can with what's allowed."

While most of the debate about Gov. Jeb Bush's race-neutral One Florida program has focused on the undergraduate level, educators have long worried that the real problem would be at the graduate schools.

Of particular concern was Florida's elite professional schools, where minorities already are under-represented.

That's because other states that have banned the use of racial preferences saw a sharp drop in minority enrollment in their most competitive graduate programs, particularly law, business and medicine, that rely more heavily on test scores and grades.

Patricia Marin, a research associate with the Civil Rights Project who earlier this year co-authored a Harvard University study critical of One Florida, said the statistics don't surprise her.

But, she said, she worries that the smaller pool of minorities in the undergraduate ranks because of One Florida will start affecting graduate school enrollment.

"It will potentially make what you are seeing worse," she said.

In the most significant affirmative action decision in a generation, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that race can be used as a factor in university admissions but not as the predominant one. That brought immediate pressure on Bush, though the court's ruling is not expected to have any immediate impact on Florida universities.

Bush ignited a firestorm when he set out to eliminate race as a factor in admissions while promising to maintain diversity. Race was eliminated in undergraduate admissions in 2000, and in graduate schools a year later.

Crunching the numbers

While the number of minority students went up for undergraduate and some graduate schools, the percentage of minority students decreased slightly or remained the same, according to the Department of Education.

But the biggest problems were at UF, the state's flagship university, which suffered a sharp drop in minority undergraduate enrollment. The school managed to bring the numbers back up in undergraduate admissions but they remain low at the law and MBA level.

When the hundreds of graduate programs available at the state's 11 public universities are lumped together, black and other minority enrollment has gone up. Minorities make up about a fourth of the incoming students. The outcomes varied from school to school.

The University of South Florida and the University of Central Florida have seen steady increases over the last four years. At USF's medical school, for example, the percentage of minorities enrolling rose from 18.6 percent in 1999 to 35.3 percent last year, with most being Hispanics and Asians.

Both USF and UCF have higher numbers than UF, where minorities made up 17.6 percent of the incoming students in graduate programs last year _ a number that has fluctuated slightly since 1999. That includes the medical school, which saw a dip in minorities, though not in black students.

Debra Austin, Florida's chancellor of colleges and universities, said UF administrators need to mimic at the graduate level what they did to beef up undergraduate enrollment. That included establishing partnerships with predominantly minority high schools around the state and targeting minorities through marketing efforts.

"They need to be more aggressive in recruiting students," Austin said. "They may need to find a similar kind of activity or program."

Of the 212 students admitted to UF's MBA program last year, five are black; 29 are Hispanic, Asian or Native American. Of the 211 students admitted to UF's law school last year, 18 are black; 33 are Hispanic, Asian or Native American.

"We're hoping to go back up," said J. Michael Patrick, assistant dean of admissions at the UF Levin College of Law.

What's the cause?

Administrators attribute the numbers to several factors, but say it's difficult to pinpoint an exact cause.

Some possible factors: the high cost of graduate school; the elimination of two minority scholarships after new law schools at Florida A&M University and Florida International University opened; a location far from a metropolitan area or a historically black college.

The number of black and Hispanic law students also decreased slightly last year at Florida State University, the only other established public law school in the state. Blacks make up 39 percent at FAMU. Hispanics make up 44 percent at FIU.

Before One Florida, Florida's most selective universities used race as an admissions factor, though the weight varied by school. Students applying to law and MBA programs were judged mostly on their grades and standardized test scores, though race was one of many other factors, such as military service or work experience.

That's similar to the way it is done at the University of Michigan law school, the subject of one of the U.S. Supreme Court cases last week in which justices ruled that race could be considered as one of many factors in the interest of ensuring a diverse student body.

Diversity's benefits

In Florida, admissions officials are not supposed to use race as a factor when final selections are made, though every student has a personal, face-to-face interview before admission.

Patrick said minorities do not get special consideration at the UF law school. But McCollough of the business school admits that that's difficult to do when race is so obvious.

The UF law school added requirements for a personal statement and a resume to learn more about students since race was banned. And both the law and business schools increased attempts to pursue promising minority students to diversify the applicant pool.

There is little argument about the value of diversity, especially in elite professional schools, where students are provided access to power and influence.

In another Harvard study, researchers surveyed 1,820 law students at Harvard and the University of Michigan to determine how racial diversity affected their educational experience.

Two-thirds of the students said diversity improved their classroom experience. Seventy-eight percent of the Harvard students said contact with students from different backgrounds changed their views on the criminal justice system.

Recruitment is credited with helping USF increase diversity in all graduate programs, particularly at the medical school.

Robert Daugherty, dean of USF's College of Medicine, attributes the gains at his school to establishing relationships with Tampa Bay area middle school students, and establishing a new summer program to help USF students increase scores on medical school standardized tests and establish ties to a minority medical association.

"We try to instill a culture in the medical school that diversity is important," Daugherty said.

Enrollment changes

In 2001, the state outlawed the use of race in university graduate school admissions _ a year after the ban went into effect at the undergraduate level. Since then, the state's most prestigious graduate programs, the law and business schools at the University of Florida, have seen a drop in the number of black students enrolling. Statewide, the percentage of black students starting on their MBAs fell to its lowest point in at least four years. The percentage of those entering law schools increased in 2002 with the opening of two new schools catering to minorities.

University of Florida

Law

1999 13.16%

2000 14.10%

2001 10.31%

2002 8.53%

MBA

1999 5.75%

2000 1.01%

2001 5.45%

2002 2.36%

Florida's 11 public universities

Law

1999 11.37%

2000 10.95%

2001 9.84%

2002 12.34%

MBA

1999 11.53%

2000 8.53%

2001 9.63%

2002 7.63%

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