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Two independently accredited colleges at risk of extinction

State Representative Randy Fine argues New College and Florida Polytechnic spend too much money per degree.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The House Education Committee discussed a proposed bill Wednesday that would take two local independently accredited institutions and merge them with big universities.

“We have an obligation as legislators and an obligation to the state to provide the best education we can to our students at the lowest possible cost,” State Rep. Randy Fine said. “And 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.”

Rep. Fine is pushing the legislation that would make New College of Florida part of Florida State University and Florida Polytechnic a part of the University of Florida.

During the committee meeting, there were questions answered about why this bill was proposed in the first place-- It's being pitched as a way to save money.

Rep. Fine argued that New College and Florida Polytechnic spend too much money on each degree.

“So, in addition to whatever tuition a student is paying, on average the state, we the taxpayer, our constituents pay $28,280 per degree that is issued,” Fine said. “That’s what we are appropriating That’s what we pay on average, but not at New College of Florida.”

At New College, taxpayers are footing the bill for seven-times as much.

“We spend $187,681 per degree,” Fine said.

At Polytechnic, he said taxpayers pay $180,958 per degree. That’s six and a half times more.

“So we could educate 10 students at one of our other schools in many of these cases for what we are spending at these schools,” Fine said.

As the bill sponsor, Fine said by combining New College with FSU and Polycentric with UF the state can save much-needed money.

“Per student New College is more expensive to run than other colleges, that's just a fact. But, the idea this could be done so quickly and without our knowledge or consent was pretty jarring,” Alexandra Barbat said.

Alexandra is a fourth-year student at New College. Her and a lot of her classmates are upset about the bill to merge their school with FSU. What makes them even more upset is no one other than the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee knew it was coming.

“No one seems to have gotten in touch with New College, with FSU, with UF, the other schools involved, and it just seems like a really bad idea to bring something like that up without getting the buy-in of the people it will affect,” said New College graduate Chad Bicketon.

The president of New College sent an email to students, staff and alumni after hearing of the bill.

It said he was caught off guard by the proposal.

“No one outside of a small group in the House knew anything about this,” President O’Shea’s letter read. “As best as we can tell, it was drafted without knowledge or input from any of the affected universities or members of the Board of Governors.”

The letter also expressed his feelings that he believes the State’s University System is stronger with an independent New College.

10News asked to talk with President O’Shea on camera to further discuss the bill, but New College’s Communications Director Ann Comer-Woods said this:

“We are awaiting more information from our legislative team on the committee’s discussion of the bill before President O’Shea makes any further comments on the proposal.”

Others are being more vocal about their views. Rep. Vern Buchanan told 10News:

“I fully support New College of Florida’s independence and oppose efforts to merge this incredible institution with Florida State University. New College is a fixture in our Sarasota community with a well-deserved reputation for academic excellence. Why mess with a college that U.S. News and World Report ranks as one of the top liberal arts schools in the country.

Fine said the money going towards each degree isn’t the only reason for the proposed bill. He said, “administrative costs are out of line.”

“When you are a small school of these sizes, your administrative costs get very high,” Fine said. “The University of Florida and Florida State, they spend less than 10-percent of their university revenue on administrative expenses. These schools spend almost a quarter of their revenue, not teaching, administering.”

In the case of New College, Fine said there is an additional reason for the merge.

“We have tried to help New College grow,” Fine said. “In fact, the legislature has funded over $10 million of member projects whose goal it was to help New College get bigger.”

Unfortunately, Fine said it didn’t work. He said the enrollment at New College continued to decline.

“So, despite the legislature giving the school an additional $10.6 million with a sole focus to try and help them get to 1,200 students, the market just did not respond.”

Points were also brought up during the meeting on how New College is adjacent to USF’s Sarasota campus and currently share resources. New College used to be a part of USF as did Polytechnic. 

Fine said there’s a reason behind that decision.

“First we wanted to leverage the fact, FSU and UF have the lowest administrative expenses in the system as a percentage, so we gain that benefit.”

Fine said they were looking out for USF since they recently achieved their preeminent status and are in the process of adding two branch campuses.

“We were worried that adding these two schools as well would increase volatility in the rankings and so that was a big part of the focus,” Fine said. “We didn’t want to have the school have to deal with these two campuses as well as this and what it might do to their rankings.”

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