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  1. Opinion

New College should remain independent | Column

The president of New College explains why Florida State should not take it over.

A hasty proposal that is being fast-tracked through the legislative process without adequate analysis, discussion or study to fold New College into Florida State University carries a lot of risk and upheaval without any evidence that it will deliver a counter-balancing benefit.

Part of the strength of a state university system like Florida’s is the diversity of options it offers to students.

Large flagship public universities like FSU and the University of Florida are excellent options for many students, and the Legislature’s investment in them – and other state universities – has produced an excellent return in the form of a well-equipped talent pool. Many students thrive there.

But for other students, what they need and seek is a small, challenging college environment where students benefit from a closer working relationship with the faculty and have more flexibility to tailor their educational experience to their needs.

This is the unique offering that New College of Florida provides, and the return on this investment to the state is also clear and significant.

Since becoming an independent member of the State University System, New College has consistently ranked among the top public liberal arts colleges and universities in the country – second only to the nation’s military academies.

Our unique educational model, which is vastly different than the offering at a large public university like FSU, produces outstanding scholars who go on to incredible achievements. For instance, we are a top producer of Fulbright fellows, with 74 awarded to NCF students over the past 15 years.

Living up to its mission as “Florida’s Honors College,” New College also ranks first in the nation among public colleges in the percentage of undergraduates who go on to earn Ph.D.s in science in engineering, one of the STEM fields so important to Florida’s future economy.

Note that these superlatives were achieved only after New College became an independent university.

We do this while providing an exceptional value for our students. A bachelor’s degree from NCF costs $10,000 less than the average degree across the State University System. And we regularly rank among the nation’s “best value” colleges for offering stellar academics, affordable cost, and strong career prospects.

While this ill-considered proposal is intended to save money, the reality is that it will save little and risk much. With FSU 300 miles away, New College will still need a local administrative structure that will not be very different from what we have in place now. Yet the transition costs could be significant.

Sweeping change that is conceived without the light of a good public airing is bound to have adverse unintended consequences. In this case, neither the universities nor the Board of Governors had any idea that this plan was in the works. The bill passed the House Education Committee on Wednesday, but I urge the Legislature to slow down and give such an important proposal the proper study it deserves.

New College is a unique asset for Florida – a small but important jewel in the crown of our State University System that is wholly different from a flagship university. It bears preserving as an independent college.

Donal O’Shea is the president of New College of Florida.

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