From Herald-Tribune — April 11, 2019
Enlarging enrollment while maintaining the standards and mission of a unique public college is a challenge.
The degree of difficulty is exacerbated when the campus needs new and renovated buildings to meet students’ expectations.
Such is the case with Sarasota-based New College of Florida, officially The Honors College of the state.
Pending in the Florida Legislature, nearing the end of its annual session, is a $6 million proposal by Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) to commence the design of a much-needed multipurpose building on campus.
That amount is a pittance in the state’s higher-education budget, but it would provide valuable capital and enable New College to jump-start the project that seems vital to the school’s effort to increase its enrollment and the satisfaction of students and staff. (Total cost: $41 million.)
The building would provide additional classrooms to accommodate today’s technology, as well as space for social activities and health and wellness facilities. These features — on a larger scale and often more expensive cost per square foot — are common at Florida’s large universities.
State government and private donors have, in fact, invested in New College during the past decade — substantially improving the college experience, and resulting in enhanced, expanded academic programming.
But basic capital needs on campus are significant. Five buildings used for classes are more than 90 years old; they are grand, especially those with stunning views of Sarasota Bay, but are expensive to maintain in a coastal environment and lack modern amenities. More than half of the buildings on campus are at least 45 years old.
New College is in the midst of a state-funded effort to increase its enrollment to 1,200, which the institution’s president, Donal O’Shea, characterizes as near a “sweet spot” that maintains low professor-student ratios, enables the hiring of enough qualified professors, and allows expansion of course offerings. (This semester, enrollment is 770.)
There may be some reluctance in the Legislature to commit more funding until New College meets its enrollment goals. But that stance would be shortsighted. It would ignore the fact that facilities matter to students and advance learning.
More important, New College delivers incredible value to Florida. It has the highest percentage of students, of any public institution in the nation, who obtain doctorate degrees and has produced prestigious Fulbright scholars in numbers disproportionate to its small enrollment. And despite its “liberal arts” label, it produces high-level graduates in engineering, biology, data studies and other “hard” sciences.
We hope the Legislature, facing many competing needs, will recognize New College’s return on investment and fund its capital budget.