The Florida House Education Committee will hear a bill Wednesday that would merge the state’s two smallest and youngest public universities with its two oldest ones – and that’s not sitting well with some.
Under Brevard County Republican Rep. Randy Fine's proposal (PCB EDC 20-03), Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland would become part of the University of Florida, while New College of Florida in Sarasota would become part of Florida State University.
Both New College and Florida Polytechnic would lose their independent accreditations, leaving the State University System of Florida with ten schools. All of Polytechnic’s and New College’s properties and assets would also transfer over to UF and FSU respectively.
The combined schools would have to send a merger application to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, which approves accreditation for universities in the region.
Proponents of the bill say it's a way to save money. Fine, the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee chairman, told Florida Politics the merger would reduce the cost of education statewide.
“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,” Fine said.
According to figures from U.S. News and World Report, Florida Polytechnic has an enrollment of 1,425 students, while New College has a total enrollment of just under 850 students. That places the schools at the bottom of the State University System’s enrollment figures.
Senator Joe Gruters of Sarasota, Chair of the state Republican Party, told the Sarasota Herald Tribune he's “100 percent” against the move. He says, as an honors college, New College plays an important role in the state.
New College President Donal O'Shea also criticized the idea, saying in an email to faculty, staff, and students that the bill appears to have been drafted “without knowledge or input from any of the affected universities or members of the Board of Governors.”
New College cuts its ties with the University of South Florida System in 2001 to become the eleventh member of the State University System.
Officials at Florida Polytechnic, which was split off from USF by lawmakers in 2012, also released a statement opposing the bill.
Respecting every taxpayer dollar and maximizing the impact of those dollars is clearly at the heart of this legislative proposal. But the facts and the truth show that every dollar at Florida Polytechnic University is already having a maximum positive impact. That’s why we respectfully and strongly oppose this unnecessary and unwarranted legislation. We stand behind the fact that we have accomplished, and continue to accomplish, great things as a separate, unique institution within the State University System.
Florida’s future lies in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and Florida Poly offers a core STEM education available nowhere else in our state. In its young life, Florida Poly has been doing the job it was created for. Our projections show enrollment growth, and applications have nearly doubled. This university has a substantial economic impact for the benefit of all of Florida, and our recently earned ABET accreditation is a testimony to the high standards of our academic degrees.
A recent study showed that Florida Poly grads can expect a return on their investment that is more than three times larger than the other universities in the system. It would be a profound mistake, for our current and future students – and for the state of Florida – to diminish Florida Poly’s role in meeting this important state objective.
It's the second time in three years that state lawmakers have proposed some level of consolidation in the State University System.
In 2018, a higher education bill was passed that requires USF to bring its three campuses under one accreditation – a process that needs to be completed by July 1. That move came after both the St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campuses had worked for years to attain separate accreditation.
The House Education Committee is scheduled to consider the proposal at its meeting Wednesday at 10 a.m. No accompanying bill has been proposed yet in the Senate.