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Merger critics say Florida students will suffer if New College and Polytechnic are absorbed

'What’s to fix?'
Posted at 5:56 PM, Feb 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-20 17:56:30-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Students and the state will suffer.

That is the warning coming from the head of one of two Florida colleges after lawmakers are trying to merge one of the schools with bigger ones to save money.

Florida Polytechnic and New College of Florida could be absorbed by the University of Florida and Florida State if a controversial bill continues to advance.

Former New College students telling us they’d be heartbroken to see their school, which has an enrollment of fewer than 1,000, become a satellite campus for FSU.

Alums like Kamron Scruggs saying they wouldn’t have attended.

“The small class sizes were so unique, I would be afraid to be swamped," Scruggs said. "Three-hundred students in an auditorium doesn’t sound like a good education to me."

Scruggs was one part of a last-minute trip to lobby the state capitol. The effort aimed at gathering enough support to kill the merger — House Bill 7087.

New College President Don O’Shea said the takeover would be detrimental for students seeking the small school experience. He also touted the institution’s high rank amongst peers and worried losing New College and Polytechnic would hurt Florida’s university system.

“Why would you take out two of its most distinctive members? How is that good for the state?" O'Shea said. "If it ain’t broke. It’s a top school in the nation. What’s to fix?”

The reason is financial— say, supporters. Sponsor, Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay), saying the schools spend too many tax dollars on each degree they award, $180,000 or more versus the near $30,000 state average.

That's a stat House leadership says it's noticed and is open to investigating.

“I can find people that are surprised by the move, but I almost can't find anyone who disagrees with it," said House Speaker Jose Oliva, last week. "It’s our responsibility to look at what that costs the taxpayer and if there is a better way.”

Critics point out the two colleges add up to a very small portion of Florida’s higher education budget. Even so, the bill continues making progress, having one more stop before reaching the full House.

That stop is the Appropriations Committee. They’re expected to take up the bill next week.