A proposal to decrease the number public universities in Florida from 12 to 10 continues to generate conversations in the legislature. New College and Florida Polytechnic are fighting to stay independent as lawmakers consider merging them into Florida State, and the University of Florida respectively. A third option has emerged: consolidating Polytech and New College into the University of South Florida.
“I think if you’re going to do something like that, USF [University of South Florida] would be more natural, just given the location," Governor Ron DeSantis told reporters when asked for his take on the university merger plan.
Both New College and Florida Polytech were spin-offs of USF, and DeSantis says there may be room for further talks about making the state’s public university system more efficient.
"At the end of the day I think we have a lot of good things going on with the universities, but we can’t be all things to all people and if there are ways to do it that are more efficient, I’m willing to look at it and discuss it.”
Also in agreement is House Speaker Jose Oliva.
“I’m open to University of South Florida as well," he said when told of DeSantis' remarks.
Senate President Bill Galvano says he’s long been concerned about New College. Its low enrollment numbers, high operational and higher-than-normal degree costs are reasons Galvano says a merger is a conversation worth having.
“I’ve always been a protector of New College, I think it has value to our community, but I’m not going to be around forever, obviously, and if there are systemic problems with the institution I’d rather figure it out and go forward.”
New College began as a private school, eventually merged with the University of South Florida and split off again in 2001. Florida Polytechnic began its life as a satellite for USF in Lakeland and was spun-off into a university in 2012 following a bitter battle in the legislature.
At the time, opponents, including USF students, its president and faculty members, said Florida Polytechnic wasn’t asked for, wasn’t needed and that the state couldn’t afford it. Republican Rep. Randy Fine’s proposal to merge New College with FSU and re-home Polytech with UF, is largely due to the issue of the cost of both schools to the state.
Neither the University of Florida nor Florida State University are commenting on Fine’s proposal. FSU is watching to see what lawmakers will do. University of South Florida President Steve Currall told sister station WUSF, he’s “just relying on the wisdom of the legislature for what they'll do,” and is watching to see how the issue unfolds.
If lawmakers decide to take action this year, they’ll have to do it soon. The legislative session is entering its final weeks and several high-profile issues, including ironing out a state budget, remain unresolved.