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New College Board of Trustees approves an updated business plan

A gavel resting on its side on a block. In the background are golden scales of justice.
A student makes her way past the sign at New College on Jan. 20, 2023, in Sarasota.

Lawmakers included a collective $25 million for New College in the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Gov. Ron DeSantis approved the $116.5 billion state budget on Wednesday.

The New College of Florida Board of Trustees on Thursday approved a revamped five-year business plan, setting up the release of tens of millions of dollars earmarked for the school in the state budget.

Lawmakers included a collective $25 million for New College in the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Gov. Ron DeSantis approved the $116.5 billion state budget on Wednesday.

The school is in line to get $10 million for “operational enhancements,” with New College President Richard Corcoran and the trustees board — dominated by appointees of DeSantis — largely given discretion on how to spend it. But $5 million would have to go toward providing scholarships to students.

An additional $15 million would have to be used for specific expenditures, including temporary student housing, additional scholarships for students, campus security and technology updates.

The money was contingent on the board’s approval of a “business/strategic” plan. The New College board approved an initial version of the plan last year, but Corcoran said the revised plan includes “more data” and other revisions to meet requirements attached to the funds in the state budget.

Corcoran told the board that the budgetary mandates — included in what is known as “proviso” language designed to carry out the state spending plan — are not typical.

“It’s somewhat rare, would be probably the best word, for this language to be associated with funding for the universities,” Corcoran, a Republican former speaker of the Florida House who began leading New College on an interim basis last year, said during Thursday’s meeting. “But obviously the Legislature has been fantastic, and so has the governor. Eighty million dollars in 15 months is just astounding. So we wanted to put together something that was worthy of their request.”

Bill Galvano, a former Senate president who serves as the New College board’s general counsel, also called the request “highly unique.”

The 38-page document approved by the board Thursday lays out six “action plans” aimed at facilitating the school’s growth. The action plans include such goals as attracting “students with broad intellectual curiosity;” encouraging “civil discourse;” developing a core liberal arts curriculum; establishing high participation in sports and cultural programs; creating “vibrant student life, top tier housing and infrastructure;” and recruiting faculty “with high interest in ensuring that students learn.”

As DeSantis and Republican allies have championed sweeping changes at the school since the beginning of 2023, boosting the school’s enrollment has been a top priority. The plan lists a goal of increasing student enrollment from 750 students going into the fall semester, to a target enrollment of 1,200 students by 2028.

“It’s somewhat rare, would be probably the best word, for this language to be associated with funding for the universities.”
New College President Richard Corcoran

The university also laid out a target of keeping a seven-to-one student-to-faculty ratio throughout the five-year period. To do that, the plan calls for 148 potential hires over the next five years, while projecting a potential loss of 84 professors. The plan would equate to a net increase of 64 faculty members by 2028.

New College projects that it will begin the coming school year with 107 faculty members.

Amid the numerous changes to the school, New College has faced heavy faculty turnover. Last summer, the school was looking to fill 36 faculty positions, while the school’s website at the time said there were 94 full-time faculty members on the Sarasota campus.

Part of the updated New College plan involved comparing the small liberal-arts school in Sarasota to some of what the plan called the “best” liberal-arts colleges across the nation, including Washington and Lee University and the University of Richmond in Virginia and Davidson University in North Carolina.

New College trustee and professor Amy Reid, who also is chair of the faculty, said she “noticed one thing” that the three southern liberal-arts colleges do not have in common with New College.

“All three of them do actually have something: they all have either a major or a minor in women’s and gender studies. And I hope that this board will keep that in mind. If we are going to be comparing ourselves to the best colleges in the South, we should still have a gender studies program,” Reid said.

The New College Board of Trustees in October voted to begin the process of eliminating the school’s gender studies program.

The business plan approved Thursday also involves more than doubling New College’s recently created athletics programs, from 12 total sports teams with 140 student athletes in the upcoming school year to 24 teams with 432 student athletes by 2028.

Also laid out in the plan are potential cultural programs that would be a part of the school’s expansion.

“New College contemplates a range of cultural activities that may include music (band, orchestra, ensemble, vocal, dance, theater, debate, and other activities – which may involve as much as 25% of New College students),” part of the plan says.

The revamped business plan ultimately needs approval from the state university system’s Board of Governors.

The $25 million proviso in the budget also directed the Board of Governors to submit quarterly “status reports” to the chairs of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the House Appropriations Committee.

The reports would have to detail things such as New College enrollment counts, money spent for each strategy in the business plan and “corrective actions or changes in strategies necessary, if any, to reach the milestones identified in the business plan.”