After nearly a month of uncertainty, House Bill 7087, merging New College of Florida and Florida Polytechnic University into the University of Florida (UF), was abandoned Friday. The move came after the Senate refused to go along with the consolidation plan, according to House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes. New College will retain its independent status.
“I am thrilled and beyond grateful to so many,” New College President Donal O’Shea told the faculty and students upon hearing the news. “New College of Florida holds a special place in the state university system. Once session ends and the dust settles, we will get to work right away to address the concerns of the legislature.”
Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay (the Florida House Higher Education Appropriations Chairman) had sponsored the merger proposal. It came as a major shock on February 12, prompting immediate opposition from university leaders, lawmakers, faculty and students. As the bill moved through the House, New College supporters regularly voiced concerns, contacting lawmakers and attending legislative sessions. But the Senate did not create a bill on the merger and showed no signs of doing so before the scheduled March 13 end of the legislative session, which ultimately halted the forward movement.
Fine had argued that a merger would save the state tens of millions of dollars, citing a significantly lower state cost-per-degree at UF than at either New College or Florida Polytechnic. New College has argued that the degree cost comparison is skewed because of the recent influx of state funding to New College to prepare for its future enrollment growth, and that four-year baccalaureate degrees are more costly than one-year master’s degrees (including the UF enrollment numbers).
New College has been independent since 2001, when the legislature separated it from the University of South Florida. And, even though House Bill 7087 did not go through, Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said New College must continue to address its enrollment issues or risk losing its independence in the future.
O’Shea thanked Galvano and Oliva for giving the College the opportunity to increase its enrollment and decrease its cost-per-degree by 2024.
“We will increase our enrollment and graduation rates, thereby decreasing costs and securing our place among the nation’s greatest educational institutions, public or private,” O’Shea said. “Our state, our region and our students deserve nothing less.”