Bill abolishing New College as independent school on fast track in Florida House
Legislation that would shrink Florida’s university system from 12 to 10 schools by revoking the independent status of New College of Florida and Florida Polytechnic University appears to be on a fast track in the Florida House, with a final committee hearing set for Tuesday.
Instead of putting New College under the umbrella of Florida State University as originally proposed, the bill that will go before the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. instead would make the Sarasota school a satellite of the University of Florida.
Florida Polytechnic also would become part of UF.
Regardless of where New College might land, a number of prominent leaders in Sarasota and Manatee county are voicing staunch opposition to abolishing the school as an independent entity, saying it would hurt the community by diminishing an important local institution.
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, has lobbied Gov. Ron DeSantis against the university consolidation plan, and state lawmakers Rep. Margaret Good and Sen. Joe Gruters are strongly against the bill.
But DeSantis and state Senate President Bill Galvano – a Bradenton Republican whose district includes New College – have both said they are open to merging the universities.
There is no companion legislation in the Senate, but the bill could become part of end-of-session negotiations between the two chambers. If it clears the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday — as expected — it will be positioned for a vote on the House floor soon.
State Rep. Randy Fine is pushing the legislation, saying New College and Florida Polytechnic spend much more taxpayer money per degree than the statewide average for universities.
But New College officials say Fine is using flawed data that is not comparable because the cost-per-degree calculations from other universities includes graduate degrees, which take less time to obtain and are cheaper.
New College supporters also are arguing that the school adds tremendous value to Florida’s university system as an independent liberal arts honors college. It is consistently ranked as one of the top public liberal arts colleges in the nation, and occupies a unique place in the university system as a smaller institution with small class sizes and the opportunity for students to create an individually tailored course of studies.
Marty Noel Chenyao said he was able to get a job at Google in the company’s augmented reality division because of his New College education.
“New College allowed me to study computer science my own way,” Chenyao wrote in a letter to the Herald-Tribune published Saturday. “I learned programming in a one-on-one class, completed a software engineering internship in San Francisco during an independent study period, and wrote a senior thesis exploring an area I was interested in. These endeavors led directly to the job I have now.”
Chenyao added that he objects “to the loss of an institution that allowed me to create my own path to academic and career success. Original thought is greatly valued in any future-oriented, forward-thinking industry. New College fosters that in abundance.”
New College was founded 60 years ago as a private school before becoming the University of South Florida’s honors college. It branched off from USF nearly 20 years ago and became an independent public college.
The independence push was led by former Senate President John McKay, a Bradenton Republican, and other community leaders who argued the school would better flourish on its own.
Fine’s legislation stripping New College of independence blindsided school officials and community leaders, who did not have any input before it was introduced late in the session.