Florida's college try

Admissions: Jeb Bush's plan to eliminate racial preferences raises questions about results.

April 17, 2000

FLORIDA'S LAW abandoning affirmative action in college admissions may not be as monstrous as critics fear, but other states shouldn't rush to emulate it. The so-called One Florida Plan is far from proven.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who proposed the measure, says his plan will boost minority enrollment by guaranteeing admission to the top 20 percent of high school seniors. Opponents say gains in minority college enrollment and graduation since the 1960s will shift into reverse.

They have good reason for this prediction: State universities will drastically scale back a program to admit capable but disadvantaged students. Two-thirds of those freshmen last year were minorities.

It would be a shame if Florida penalizes capable minority students whose biggest fault was attending poor schools with poor teachers from K to 12.

Mr. Bush proposed his plan last fall to preempt a referendum to roll back the minority admissions program. Polls show many Americans believe race-based preferences aren't needed any more.

Indeed, African Americans have made great strides since the 1960s, yet the chasm between blacks and whites in education and the workplace has narrowed but remains wide.

The U.S. Civil Rights Commission says Florida shouldn't abandon racial preferences unless forced to do so. The commission criticized the plan last week. Chairwoman Mary Frances Berry argues the law is likely to reduce diversity and that race-based considerations are still necessary. The law is being challenged in court.

With the jury out, other states committed to equal opportunity should not rush to follow Florida's path.

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