Georgia university losing battle for top black students
Friday, June 6, 2003
LITHONIA, Ga. -- In the nearly two years since a federal appeals court barred the University of Georgia from using affirmative action, the school has stepped up its efforts to reach top black students.
It has put recruiters in offices in mostly black Atlanta and in southern Georgia. It has bought a database of 12,000 minority sophomores and juniors in the Southeast who have at least a 3.3 grade-point average. It has reached out to black high school students through e-mails, invitations to campus and personal visits. It has created the position of associate provost for diversity, and narrowed the search to five candidates.
And yet, for all that, the university has little to show for it.
For a variety of reasons, many of the Georgia's top black high school students are deciding not to attend the state's flagship university, where black enrollment has fallen from 6.2 percent in 1988 to 5.5 percent last fall. The state is 29 percent black.
Students like Kortney Rule, a senior at Lithonia High School in suburban Atlanta, are picking other schools where they say they feel more comfortable or can get more financial aid.
At the University of Georgia, "they try to have a welcoming environment, but it's still a big culture shock. We come from mostly black schools, and it's just not the same," said Rule.
If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the University of Michigan's use of race in admissions -- a ruling is expected any day now -- other public colleges may face challenges similar to UGA's in trying to achieve a diverse student body.
At UGA, the college is left with only a few ways to enroll more blacks without assigning a direct admissions benefit to their skin color -- personal phone calls, visits to high schools and lots of direct mail.
UGA officials say it is difficult to compete for the small pool of top black students who have the grades and test scores to get in. The average freshman at the university has a 1215 SAT score out of a possible 1600.
Lithonia High senior Charles Hill picked the U.S. Military Academy at West Point over UGA. "I want to diversify myself. The world is bigger than where you grow up," said Hill, a former congressional intern with a B average who wants to become president.
UGA, situated in Athens, 60 miles east of Atlanta, is also said to have limited appeal to blacks because of its reputation as a mostly white school and because word is out that it lost its affirmative action battle.
In addition, many black students want to go to colleges with larger black populations, such as historically black Morehouse and Spelman in Atlanta. And many want to be in Atlanta itself, because it is close to home or because of its vibrant black social life.
Georgia State University in Atlanta, for example, is nearly 27 percent black, with 7,344 black students last fall -- the largest enrollment in any institution in the country that was not historically black, said associate provost Bill Fritz.
The University of Georgia's old admissions policy gave a statistical boost to black students. But in August 2001, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the policy was unconstitutional, which also resulted in Georgia's public colleges cutting race-based scholarships.
"It comes down to where students can get the course of study they want and where they can get the best financial package. UGA sometimes loses out on that financial package," said school spokesman Tom Jackson. "We want to recruit better, we want to put more resources to recruitment and we want to prepare more students to go to college."
Some states -- California, Texas and Florida -- guarantee admission to the top 4 percent to 20 percent of high school graduates in the state. Other colleges have tried giving admissions preferences to the poor.
At the University of Florida, black and Hispanic enrollment has gone up since Gov. Jeb Bush's "One Florida" plan in 2000 eliminated race-based admissions and automatically admitted the top 20 percent of high school seniors.
The university's undergraduate population of 48,000 was 6 percent black and 8.1 percent Hispanic in the fall of 2002, up from 5.1 percent black and 7.5 percent Hispanic in 1999. But a study by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University argues the gains were made through recruiting, financial aid and retention programs.
"We've done it largely by a lot of hard work," said Provost David Colburn. "What we do is build relationships with parents of all students that this is a good place for them academically."
On the Net:
University of Georgia: http://www.uga.edu
University of Michigan: http://www.umich.edu
University of Florida: http://www.ufl.edu
Georgia State University: http://www.gsu.edu