updated 9/10/2005 10:43:08 PM ET 2005-09-11T02:43:08

New figures show fewer black students are attending Florida universities, providing ammunition for critics of Gov. Jeb Bush’s 5-year-old policy that excludes race in admissions decisions.

Six of the state’s 11 public universities reported a drop, and the percentage of blacks in this year’s freshman class is at its lowest since Bush became governor in 1999.

The decline comes despite continued growth in the overall student population at the state’s public universities — a 3.1 percent increase to nearly 282,000 students, according to figures released Friday.

“We need to find out what’s going on,” said David Griffin, former secretary of the Florida Department of Lottery and a trustee for the historically black Florida A&M University.

Bush has celebrated freshmen enrollment numbers to rebuff criticism of his 5-year-old One Florida plan, which barred universities from using race in admission decisions. The state adopted the Talented 20 program, which guarantees a spot at a state university to those in the top 20 percent of their senior classes.

Opponents argued declining black enrollment was inevitable after the change.

Governor’s office denies new policy a factor
Bush spokesman Russell Schweiss disputed Friday that One Florida had anything to do with the black enrollment decline. Bush’s office issued a statement touting overall enrollment increases and climbing Hispanic enrollment. The governor also noted rising minority graduation rates.

“Florida’s universities deserve recognition for recruiting the best and the brightest from all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds,” Bush said.

The steep drop, if uncorrected, could invite budget cuts for schools like Florida A&M, which is already troubled by short finances and mismanagement.

The school, more than 90 percent black, has seen overall enrollment drop by nearly 1,700 students — with a 25 percent smaller freshman class this year than last.

Hispanic enrollment at public schools rose 6 percent from 2004, and Hispanics now comprise more than 16 percent of the overall student population.

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