Decades before the recent Supreme Court decision rejecting affirmative action in higher education, the state of Florida independently prohibited the use of race in college admissions. This could serve as a preview of what other parts of the country may experience moving forward.

Last Thursday, the Supreme Court made a landmark 6-3 decision to end affirmative action. The case involved lawsuits against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, with the student activist group Students for Fair Admissions arguing that the schools’ admissions programs discriminated against Asian applicants. The court’s majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, emphasized that students should be treated as individuals based on their experiences, rather than their race.

Critics of the decision, including liberals in the media and Democrats in Congress, labeled it as discriminatory. Some commentators even attacked Asian Americans, accusing them of being tools of white people or white supremacists themselves. On the other hand, many Republicans, including Florida Governor and 2024 presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, expressed support for the ruling. DeSantis’s spokesperson highlighted Florida’s own ban on race and gender preferences in college admissions, emphasizing the state’s commitment to merit-based admissions.

The Florida Board of Governors, which oversees all public universities in the state, also praised the Supreme Court decision. They noted that the state has not used affirmative action since the One Florida Initiative in 1999 and emphasized that Florida’s higher education system provides equal opportunities to students without considering race. They cited Florida’s ranking as the top state in the nation for higher education, according to U.S. News and World Report, as evidence that diversity can be achieved without affirmative action.

In 1999, Florida Governor Jeb Bush signed the “One Florida” initiative, which aimed to increase diversity in the state without using discriminatory practices. The initiative prohibited racial or gender preferences in state hiring, contracting, and public university admissions. Instead of race-based admissions, a program was established guaranteeing admission into one of Florida’s public universities for high school graduates in the top 20% of their class, regardless of their race.

According to the admissions regulations set by the Florida Board of Governors, preferences based on race or color are not allowed during the admissions process of all Florida universities. While the overall representation of Black and Hispanic students at Florida’s public universities initially declined after the implementation of One Florida, some schools, like the University of Florida, saw an increase in Black and Hispanic representation. However, in recent years, the gap has widened between these groups and their White counterparts.

Critics of One Florida and supporters of affirmative action argue that the decline in Black and Hispanic college students relative to their populations of high school seniors is evidence that race should be considered in admissions. Supporters of the Supreme Court decision counter that a color-blind society is necessary for true equality and that fluctuations in demographics are expected. They also point out that Florida’s education system, ranked as the top state for higher education, undermines the idea of systemic exclusion in admissions based on race.

Despite the rankings, the University of Florida, the top-ranked university in Florida, makes admissions decisions based on various factors but does not consider race. The university follows non-discrimination practices and evaluates applicants holistically, taking into account both academic and nonacademic criteria.

In conclusion, Florida’s ban on using race in college admissions provides insight into what other parts of the country may face following the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action last week. While critics and supporters have differing views on the implications of this decision, Florida’s example demonstrates that diversity can be achieved through a merit-based system without affirmative action.

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