As the Supreme Court considers the University of Michigan case, our state of Florida offers an inviting alternative to traditional race-based programs that are coming under growing constitutional scrutiny nationwide.
Just over four years ago, our state launched the One Florida
initiative with the ambitious goal of increasing opportunity and diversity in Florida’s state universities and in state contracting, without relying on the divisive policies of the past such as quotas, racial preferences, and set-asides. The One Florida initiative is designed to level the education playing field for all Floridians by providing rewarding school experiences to all students regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or zip code. We have broadened the search for talented minorities through greater outreach and recruitment, and increased access for and success of underrepresented students while employing race-neutral admissions criteria. Since 1999, we have pursued policies that empower and prepare all of our students while simultaneously targeting assistance to the most needy. The result has been that minority enrollment at our state universities has either risen or held steady under One Florida, including at our flagship universities. Our record of success clearly demonstrates that diversity can be attained through race-neutral means.
In stark contrast, the University of Michigan continues to use race as a determining factor for admissions at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. More specifically, the university awards extra points to minority candidates at the undergraduate level, while the law school uses race as one of the factors that can greatly enhance an applicant’s chance of admission. Regardless of how one tries to explain the rationale behind the university’s policy, this system is fundamentally flawed. As President Bush pointed out, the Michigan program “amounts to a quota system that unfairly rewards or penalizes prospective students solely on their race.”
For those in search of a solution, we offer the One Florida approach. In striving to achieve greater diversity in our state universities, my administration never lost sight of two guiding principles: 1) Diversity is a worthy goal, and 2) Outreach and encouragement at the K-12 level is the key to success. As governor of one of the most racially diverse states in the country, I know firsthand that our classrooms and workplaces benefit greatly when opportunity is extended to all. By strengthening the pre-college education experience for all students, we can maintain and increase diversity without a formulaic, one-size-fits-all approach that serves no one’s best interest. From the outset, I challenged all university presidents and admissions officers to implement new ways of reaching out to and recruiting minority students to maintain a diverse student population. Today, each of Florida’s eleven public universities has established Opportunity Alliances with high schools that have high minority populations, relatively high proportions of dropouts, and relatively low performance on standardized tests. Students in these schools are now being actively recruited while curriculum reform strengthens their high-school experience. In addition, my administration has doubled funding for need-based financial aid over the past four years to help ensure access and the ability to pay for college go hand-in-hand.
In addition, we have entered into a partnership with the College Board to expand AP course opportunities statewide for students in low performing schools, provide free SAT test prep classes for low-income students, and free PSAT or PLAN testing for all tenth graders. The results speak for themselves: In the 2002-03 class of undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in the State University System, minorities comprise 36.2 percent of all new students and 23.5 percent of all new graduate students, respectively. In addition, from 2001-2002, the number of African-American and Hispanic students who took AP Examinations increased by 21 percent and 22 percent, respectively. Both of these increases are higher than the averages for U.S. public schools, as are the numbers of African-American and Hispanic students in Florida with scores of 3 or higher on the AP Examinations.
We are committed to diversity here in Florida, but it must be achieved in ways that both comply with the Constitution and truly benefit our students. Our track record under One Florida proves that it can be achieved through race-neutral means. Florida’s programs, and the principles that they advance, are more than just another way of accomplishing true diversity. They provide a better way. Florida’s plan is better in that it no longer accepts the lack of quality in the public schools that serve our underprivileged children; better because it encourages all students regardless of race or economic status to aspire to post-secondary education; and better because it looks forward to a day when racial classifications and separate standards are no longer deemed necessary by anyone.
— Jeb Bush is the governor (R.) of Florida.