SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - State legislators are looking to consolidate two of Florida’s smallest colleges, Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland and New College of Florida in Sarasota, with state colleges.
In the proposal in the Florida House, New College of Florida would become an extension of Florida State University and Florida Polytechnic University would become a part of the University of Florida instead of being independently-accredited schools.
“I came here for a reason. I came to New College for the reason specifically for the educational value it provides,” said Ellie, a New College student.
New College was a private liberal arts college before becoming University of South Florida’s honors college and then striking out on its own as an independent public liberal arts honors college. In 2001, it became the 11th public university.
Olympia Fulcher, who is in her third year at New College, says if this bill goes through many students like herself would leave.
“If that system were to go away, I think we would probably lose at least 25 percent of the student population," she argued.
As of 2018, New College only had 838 students, according to its website. Lawmakers believe New College and Polytechnic are costing taxpayers money and resources when the schools have low enrollment.
But students say their school has quality over quantity.
“We are more expensive to run. You’re paying for the cost of professors who are sitting and reading over 15- to 20-page midterms for every student. Providing them constructive [and] valuable feedback and creating a mentorship relationship with them. You don’t get that from larger universities,” said Alexandra Barbat, a student at New College.
Congressman Vern Buchanan who represents Sarasota County and a part of Manatee County tweeted a statement urging lawmakers to keep New College independent.
The President of New College, Donal O’Shea, sent an email to students expressing how he felt about the bill:
“While I certainly respect the Legislature’s right to entertain and make these kinds of decisions, I believe that the State University System is stronger with an independent New College.
"One of the system’s hallmarks is its diversity of institutions. New College plays an important and unique role in this respect and, in fact, in the national higher education landscape. New College has consistently ranked among the top public liberal arts universities since becoming independent, second only to the nation’s military academies. It offers unique opportunities for Florida’s students and fills an important need in our region.
"For these reasons, I wholeheartedly support New College’s continued independence.”
The bill went before the House Education Committee on Wednesday, which passed the proposal.
State Rep. Randy Fine (R) of Brevard County said, “Unfortunately, as we discovered in our committee, the cost of providing an education at Florida Poly and New College is an order of magnitude higher than it is at our other schools.”
If signed into law, the mergers would take effect by July 1st, 2020.