State Takes New College in a Distinctively Different Direction


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Once part of the University of South Florida, New College became an autonomous in 2001 as the honors college for the state university system.

Mackenzie Sullivan, Website Editor

New College of Florida, has always been different.“Providing challenging courses for highly self-motivated students who want a large amount of control over their academic choices,” New College is a self-proclaimed, “college of freethinkers.”  The institution differs from other public Florida colleges in that it uses written reports instead of grades and the classrooms are significantly smaller. New College gives students freedom to experience hands-on learning and individualized degree programs. 

“I chose New College for its academic freedoms and flexibility,” said 2022 graduate and West Shore alumnus Anna Feldbush. “I wanted to continue to do research and New College gave me flexibility to both direct my own research and make the classes and degree path to best support my interests.”

In recent years, the small, public institution in Sarasota appealed to progressive students. However, due to a recent takeover by the Department of Education, the financially failing school has taken a different direction.

 “It is our hope that New College of Florida will become Florida’s classical college, more along the lines of a Hillsdale of the south,” Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz said in a statement. Hillsdale is a private conservative Christian liberal arts university in Michigan. 

“This is not the first time New College’s uniqueness has been targeted,” Anna Feldbush said. “This is the first time though we have been targeted for purely political reasons. Students are stressed about their homes being taken away from them. Professors are moving their families and careers for fear that they will be a puppet.” 

Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed several new members to the New College board of trustees in January. New College President Patricia Okker was fired after the board appointed a new administration. She was replaced by interim president Richard Corcoran, a former speaker of the Florida State House and education commissioner.

“[New College] had a lot of problems with the dorms, infrastructural issues and difficulty with the food services,” West Shore college coach Angela Feldbush said. “These issues are very hard to maintain on a small scale, but they hired a new president two years ago. Okker was doing a really good job of recruiting new students and supporting the programs that were drawing in new people. I feel like she was on the right track to increase the size of New College and increase the rigor of the curriculum. I feel like it was a shame that [the board] booted her out without giving her a chance to try to help define the vision of the school.” 

Recent potential applicants have been reconsidering New College due to political and administrative changes. 

“No one wants to go to a school in transition,” senior Adalynn Jacobson said. “The board and the students have different viewpoints. It is going to harm their attendance and people who want to apply. Their current students might transfer because they do not feel safe on campus.” 

According to the Art & Science group, a consulting and research firm, 21 percent of Florida students were more likely to “shun” a college based on political beliefs. As more Florida colleges transition to classical learning, more graduating Florida students are prone to attend college out of state or attend a private university. 

  “I definitely think I would have chosen a different school had the political upheaval happened during my senior year of high school,” Anna Feldbush said. “I chose New College because I truly believed it would give me the best education. College [president] appointments have always had some political overtones. I just think it is being done much more overtly now. When you choose a college you should not need to know their politics. It should not impact you. At a college all voices should be heard, all colleges should be respected and it should not matter whether the president is a Republican or a Democrat. Universities are trying to remake a certain image and it can lead to stifled student voices.” 

Anna Feldbush said she grateful the culture change didn’t happen while she was a student at New College. 

“I would absolutely leave,” she said.