The New College Story
Beginning in the late 1950s, a group of Sarasota civic leaders came to the conclusion that their community would be an ideal site for a college. In 1960, with assistance from the national Congregational and Christian Church, these civic leaders created the framework for a small liberal arts college whose students would come from all parts of the nation and whose faculty and curriculum would reflect the highest standards of academic excellence.
With this in mind, a board of trustees was organized and the charter for the college was created. It was to be named New College – as new as the future, yet based on timeless values. What made New College not only new but also different was that it brought together a faculty primarily committed to teaching--to new ways of teaching and new kinds of courses – and a student body motivated to intensive work, unimpeded by obsolete curricular designs.
During the next four years, a president was selected, the essential fund-raising was carried out, and land for the campus was acquired: the historic bayfront estates of circus pioneer Charles Ringling and railroad entrepreneur Ralph Caples, whose property was bequeathed to the College in 1962, and property adjacent to the Sarasota airport. A faculty was assembled, and in the fall of 1964 New College opened with its first class of 101 students. They resided in a modernist complex of dormitories east of US 41 designed by I.M. Pei, the internationally renowned architect. Pei also designed a student center and Palm Court, which would become a gathering place for students for decades to come.
The first class graduated in 1967. That same year, New College was accredited, in record time, by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. During the 1960s, New College enjoyed increasing recognition in the academic world as its students came to be known in the graduate and professional schools.
By 1972 the enrollment had reached 500 and the College's academic program matured. However, financial difficulties threatened its economic existence. In 1974, the trustees, acting on the initiative of the College president, proposed a novel solution in the interest of preserving the institution. Aware that the University of South Florida, in Tampa, had some interest in establishing a regional branch in the Sarasota area, the trustees offered the New College campus to the State University System as the site for such a branch. In return, the State University System agreed to provide funds for New College at the same per-student level as for the state universities. The New College trustees, changing their corporate name to "New College Foundation, Inc." would provide the supplemental funds needed to support the distinctive New College program. A unique combination of public and private funding for higher education was thereby created.
For about 25 years, the arrangement flourished. New College operated as a distinctive college of the University of South Florida, with its own faculty, curriculum and student body, admissions office, and commencement, even its own diploma. New College shared some facilities with USF's Regional Campus at Sarasota-Manatee, which offers junior, senior and graduate course work to commuting area residents.
In May of 2001, a group of lawmakers in the Florida legislature passed a bill to elevate the status of New College in the State University System. On July 1, 2001, New College of USF became New College of Florida, the 11th member of the State University System and operating with its own Governor-appointed Board of Trustees. New College students living in Florida continue to pay state tuition rates. Both in-state and out-of-state students are awarded scholarships funded by the New College Foundation, which continues to provide the enhancement funding that enables New College of Florida to deliver an exceptional liberal arts education.
In July of 2006, after 31 years of shared usage, the University of South Florida moved to its own campus just north of New College. This relocation gave New College an unparalleled opportunity to transform its physical campus to support its mission and create a more seamless relationship between academic and residential life at the College. This found expression in a bold Campus Master Plan process, underwritten with $250,000 in state funds, which created a blueprint for growth over the next 25 years.
The initial steps in this plan included five new residence halls (fall 2007), a new Public Archaeology Lab (fall 2010); and a signature building for classrooms and faculty offices (Academic Center, fall 2011). A landscape master plan was created, and plans call for an international and area studies center and a mixed-use campus commons to enhance our sense of community. In addition, the purchase of a strategically-situated parcel at the corner of University Parkway and North Tamiami Trail presents an opportunity to solidify the Pei Campus and provide additional administrative/mixed use and recreation space. Plans call for the development of this property by 2013.
By acknowledging our strong sense of “place” in an environmentally progressive way, New College draws on the best of its heritage while providing leadership on the state and national levels. Sensitivity to our shoreline and a commitment to native plants reinforce “green” design of new buildings and the aggressive development of energy-saving utilities measures. With environmental literacy now a clear benchmark of a liberal arts education, there will be multiple opportunities for the College to design its educational aims into the very spaces our students inhabit.
The vision of a small liberal arts college founded on the principles of active learning and individual responsibility is very much alive today at New College of Florida. A clear-cut focus on our student-centered undergraduate mission will remain the key to our continued progress in the years ahead.
Click here to read New College: The First Fifty Years, an illustrated timeline created on the occasion of the College’s 50th anniversary in 2010-2011. You may also want to look at Visualizing New College: A Guide to Our Campus, which has lots of historical anecdotes and descriptions of our campus buildings.