By Donal O’Shea
I was surprised to learn about a proposal in the state’s House Education Committee to merge New College of Florida into Florida State University, and Florida Polytechnic University into the University of Florida. While the Legislature has every right to consider a differently configured State University System, I know the system is stronger with an independent New College.
One of the extraordinary strengths of the 12-member state system is the diversity of its institutions. While much attention focuses on the three full-scale research institutions, the SUS also includes three major metropolitan institutions, three regional comprehensives, a nationally ranked historically black university, a primarily undergraduate engineering institution, and a highly ranked national liberal arts university. The latter, New College, consistently ranks among the top public liberal arts universities in the country, bested only by the military academies.
A New College education prepares intellectually curious students for future jobs in Florida’s knowledge economy. We are the No. 1 public university in the nation for the percentage of graduates who go on to earn PhDs in math and science. Approximately 40% of our students earn baccalaureate degrees in STEM fields. Our graduates garner a vastly outsized proportion of national fellowships such as Fulbright, Gilman and Udall awards awarded to SUS graduates. And we regularly rank among the nation’s “best value” colleges for offering stellar academics, affordable cost, and strong career prospects.
Moreover, locally managed institutions better serve their region, because cooperation is simpler than among larger, necessarily more bureaucratic, institutions with headquarters elsewhere in the state. In Sarasota-Bradenton, New College has joined with local higher education institutions in the Cross-College Alliance to offer the breadth of curricular opportunities of a large university while maintaining our individual missions. This not only allows us to meet the diverse educational needs of our community, but lets us collectively function as a large research university in responding to the workforce needs of our region’s emerging entrepreneurial economy. This type of collaboration is critical: Building a new research university in this area would be prohibitively expensive.
While I have great respect for Florida State University, New College offers unique opportunities for Florida’s students and fills an important need in our region and state. For intellectually curious students seeking a small, residential, highly academic environment, we are the best and only choice in the state system. We are continuing to work closely with our legislative team in Tallahassee as well as our fellow institutions in the State University System to do what we can to ensure a strong and independent New College for today and into the future.
This column originally appeared in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on February 13, 2020.