As enrollment rises at New College of Florida, reported new numbers point to a significant change in the makeup of its student body.
More than a fourth of the students who were attending the school last fall have left — about twice the normal percentage who departed in recent years, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported Thursday.
The newspaper cited a new report sent to faculty by Interim Provost Bradley Thiessen. It follows a similar assessment by Thiessen in July that a “ridiculously high” number of New College faculty had left over the last year.
Both reports follow this year’s push by Gov. Ron DeSantis to revamp New College as part of a broader set of changes to higher education in Florida. DeSantis in January appointed six new members to the New College Board of Trustees, which quickly fired President Patricia Okker and replaced her with Richard Corcoran, the former House speaker and state education commissioner.
In the latest report, Thiessen said 27% of New College’s students had left by the start of the 2023-24 academic year in August — about 186 of the 691 students who were there last fall, according to the Herald-Tribune. That’s double the percentage who left over the previous two years, the newspaper reported.
Separately, it said, Thiessen mentioned another statistic, the school’s latest retention rate of 64.9%. Thiessen said that was “by far” the lowest rate of returning first-year students in New College’s history, the Herald-Tribune reported.
In Thiessen’s July remarks to trustees, he said 36 faculty had departed over the last year. The school has fewer than 100 full-time teachers.
Some left for long-planned retirements or sabbaticals while others departed over frustration with the change of direction at New College, which Corcoran described as a move toward a classical liberal arts institution.
Counteracting the student departures mentioned by Thiessen, New College has boosted its total enrollment this fall to 733 students, up 41 students from last year, according to the Herald-Tribune. Citing the college’s online fact book, the newspaper said the school has 325 incoming students this fall, an increase of 137 students from last year.
In a statement Thursday, New College spokesperson Nate March said the retention rates reported by Thiessen were “completely expected” and “remarkably unacceptable.”
They “demonstrate just one of the many interventions that were needed at New College,” he said. “As we look to our growth and our future, we are intently focused on supporting the 733 students who are here today.”
In a recent business plan submitted to the state, New College officials said they intend to increase enrollment to 1,200 students in the next five years while also overhauling the curriculum and improving the physical campus.
The school has launched six sports programs that had attracted 120 student athletes as of July. Plans call for 350 student athletes to be enrolled by fall 2027.
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