© 2024 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
The CNC produces journalism on a variety of topics in Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties for about a dozen media partners including newspapers, radio and television stations and magazines.

New College students find new campuses and a tuition deal

A beige building with a beige sign in front that reads "New College of Florida."
Jim DeLa
Community News Collaborative 
New College of Florida in Sarasota has been the target of an effort by conservatives to reshape the progressive liberal arts college into a conservative, classical institution.

A college in Massachusetts offers a price break to allow transfers to ‘pick up wherever they were at the end of last semester.’

After a tumultuous semester at New College of Florida, during which Gov. Ron DeSantis' board of trustees began reshaping the liberal arts college in Sarasota, students are leaving for other schools.

And the president of a school in Massachusetts that plans to take in more than 12% of New College's student body is blasting Florida's efforts, calling it a threat to the future of education in America.

"This is an authoritarian effort to limit free inquiry, to use the power of the state, which is backed up by the coercion of force and law, to forbid people from exploring the truth about our society and our world," said Ed Wingenbach, president of Hampshire College, which is offering an in-state tuition deal for New College students. "And if that is allowed to happen, it won't stop."

New College, the smallest of the 12 schools in the state university system, became a target for DeSantis and conservative activists because of its reputation as a progressive-minded college with a vibrant LGBTQ+ population and, according to its website, a student body of “free thinkers, risk takers and trailblazers.”

In January, DeSantis replaced six of the college's board of trustees with conservatives including Christopher Rufo, a commentator from Seattle who has led a national effort against the teaching of critical race theory and the abolition of diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

A crowd of protesters holding signs and flags on the New College of Florida campus.
Jim DeLa
Community News Collaborative 
Protesters gathered on the New College of Florida campus Jan. 31, 2023, ahead of the first meeting after six members of the Board of Trustees were replaced by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Moves produce fallout

The events are prompting many students and faculty to leave New College.

A large number of the 697 students have applied to other schools. 38 out of about 90 full-time faculty members have resigned, a number even the school's provost, Bradley Thiessen, called “ridiculously high.”

A retired president of New College, Don O'Shea, wrote in a recent newspaper op-ed piece that "I have never encountered a loss of this scale in my 50 years in higher education."

Rising third-year student Rhiannon Hanlon says the tumult has just been too much. "The New College that I'm grieving, like, truly doesn't exist any more," Hanlon said. "Even if I was staying, it wouldn't be what I want or what I've enjoyed."

Hanlon first considered leaving when President Patricia Okker was fired in February. "(Interim president Richard) Corcoran got in and started getting involved, and I started actually seeing the changes manifest," Hanlon said. "A lot of plans to just demolish so much of campus culture, take away so many different academic disciplines, not giving tenure to very deserving professors."

Hanlon, from Jacksonville, heads this fall to Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York as a public health and medical physiology transfer student. "They have very similar open-course styles and a lot of emphasis on individual work and research."

A protestor holding a sign that says "Change yourself before you try to change others please!"
Jim DeLa
Community News Collaborative 
Protesters gathered on the New College of Florida campus Jan. 31, 2023, ahead of the first meeting after six members of the Board of Trustees were replaced by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

But the move will come at a cost. In-state tuition, fees, room and board at New College totals less than $22,000. Many students can cover that with available scholarships.

At the private Sarah Lawrence College, tuition alone is $63,128. Room and board is nearly $17,500.

Hanlon says even with a full tuition grant, thousands in student loans will be needed. "I'll hopefully be able to get a job fresh out of college, that I'll be well-off enough to make those payments."

Sarah Lawrence Communications Director Falguni Smith says the school has received inquiries from other New College students. "We’re expecting three students and potentially more at a later time after a potential gap term or two," she said.

A generous offer

From Amherst, Massachusetts, Hampshire College officials watched events unfold in Sarasota. "It was very clear that the state of Florida was going to be using its political power to both impose a really narrow, politicized curriculum on New College," President Ed Wingenbach said. "We thought we should try to help."

College officials were concerned enough to make an offer to New College students: Transfer to Hampshire and pay New College in-state tuition for the duration of their college careers.

"We're offering automatic admission to any student at New College, because, you know, they're obviously really strong students," Wingenbach said. "It feels like it's our responsibility that these students not be punished or burdened by the actions of the state government.

"It's obviously somewhat expensive for us to match in-state tuition for Florida students, but it would have been hypocritical to offer that admission and then not make it possible for them to come," he said.

To date, 88 students -- more than 12% of New College's student body -- have transferred to Hampshire or are in the application process, officials said. Twenty-five of them will join 40 other transfer students and 265 freshmen in Hampshire’s Fall 2023 class.

With so many similarities in programs, Wingenbach says the transfer students shouldn't miss a beat. "Every New College student will be able to pick up wherever they were at the end of last semester and continue to make progress on the degree or focus that they already established without losing time or credit."

A person wearing a black Doors tee smiles and leans off a balcony.
Jim DeLa
Community News Collaborative 
Rhiannon Hanlon, a third-year student at New College of Florida, is transferring to Sarah Lawrence College in New York this fall. They say the New College they knew “truly doesn't exist anymore." Harlon says they will have to take out thousands in student loans to finish their education in public health and medical physiology.

Students such as Hanlon are packing up and preparing for the next chapter in their lives. "I'm definitely super excited to move to a new place and have all these new opportunities ... a little bit earlier than I anticipated," they said.

"But it also is really sad and heartbreaking at the same time," Hanlon said. "I met so many amazing people here and really figured out what I loved learning here. The fact that it feels like we can really do nothing to stop it is so just, like, disheartening."

Jim DeLa is a reporter for the Community News Collaborative. You can reach him at jdela@cncfl.org.