Florida lawmakers aim to consolidate Florida Poly, New College with larger state schools
A bombshell university consolidation bill that would abolish New College of Florida and Florida Polytechnic University as independent entities has been filed in the Florida House.
The legislation targets the two youngest members of Florida’s university system. New College became the 11th member of the system in 2001, while Florida Polytechnic became the 12th in 2012.
New College would become part of Florida State University under the proposal, while Florida Polytechnic would become part of the University of Florida. Each school would cease to exist as an independently accredited academic institution, with their properties transferred to FSU and UF.
The legislation is scheduled to be heard in the House Education Committee Wednesday at 10 a.m.. lt is sure to generate strong reaction, especially in the Sarasota region, where New College is located, and in Lakeland, which is home to Florida Polytechnic University.
House leaders spearheaded a similar university consolidation effort in 2018 that stripped the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of independent accreditation and made them satellites of the main University of South Florida campus again.
Florida Polytechnic also once was a USF satellite before it became independently accredited. New College was a private liberal arts college before becoming USF’s honors college and then striking out on its own as an independent public liberal arts honors college.
Consolidation is being pitched as an effort to increase efficiency and to more effectively use limited resources.
“We have an obligation to taxpayers to generate degrees at the lowest possible cost. Unfortunately, degrees earned from Florida Poly and New College cost an order of magnitude more than they do at the other 10 universities,” state Rep. Randy Fine told the Florida Politics website, which first reported the consolidation effort.
But both New College and Florida Polytechnic have strong supporters in their communities, and New College has a 60-year history that would come to an end if the legislation is approved.
Sarasota state Sen. Joe Gruters said he will fight hard against the consolidation bill. He is “100 percent against any type of merger.”
“I think New College should stay as it is,” he added of the Sarasota college.
New College’s small enrollment — it has just 724 students but is trying to grow to 1,200 — and small class sizes make it more expensive for the state to operate on a per student basis.
But the school only makes up a tiny fraction of the overall university system’s budget and Gruters said it has a “unique place in Florida’s higher education world.”
“New College, as it’s honors college, certainly plays an important role,” Gruters said.
New College President Donal O’Shea also pointed to New College’s “unique role” in arguing it should remain independent.
O’Shea said in an email sent to the New College community Tuesday that the consolidation bill appears to have been drafted “without knowledge or input from any of the affected universities or members of the Board of Governors.”
“While I certainly respect the Legislature’s right to entertain and make these kinds of decisions,” O’Shea said in the email. “I believe that the State University System is stronger with an independent New College.”
O’Shea went on to argue that New College “plays an important and unique role” in Florida’s higher education system and “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,” he added. “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.”