Univ. of Florida gets Florida Poly and New College under latest version of controversial legislation

Dsg_UF_Entrance_Sign_20050507
Fine insists there is a constituency beyond Tallahassee that wants these schools to consolidate.

In a sudden shift, the chair of the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee is now proposing that the state’s smallest universities be absorbed into the flagship University of Florida.

Rep. Randy Fine filed a proposed committee substitute Friday to HB 7087 that substantially changes the controversial plan that has rankled the higher education system during the closing weeks of the 2020 Legislative Session.

The new legislation gives Florida Polytechnic University and New College to the University of Florida and removes the provisions regarding EASE and ABLE. That means those programs giving students non needs-based scholarships to go to private colleges will not be cut. Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida had estimated 63% of the 43,000 students receiving EASE grants would lose their scholarships.

The original version of Fine’s legislation would have consolidated New College into Florida State University and folded Florida Polytechnic University into UF. It would have also made the Effective Access To Student Education grant program, or EASE, and Access to Better Learning and Education Grant program, or ABLE, means-tested. 

Fine says he made the change to consolidate both schools with UF after discussions with UF, FSU and the University of South Florida. Both New College and Florida Poly have been part of USF before. New College, founded as a private school, was brought into Florida’s university system in 1975 as part of USF and remained until becoming independent in 2001. Florida Poly started as a USF satellite campus before gaining its independence in 2012.

“UF is closer than FSU to New College,” he said. “Two, UF is the highest ranked and then third there would be more cost efficiencies if both go to one than split them up.”

Both Florida Poly and New College are fiercely opposed to merging into one of the state’s flagship institutions. Florida Polytechnic President Randy Avent testified in opposition of the previous version of the bill. New College President Donal O’Shea was in Tallahassee earlier this week lobbying lawmakers against the plan.

Fine would not say if UF has said it wants the schools. 

When asked where the constituency was for merging the schools, Fine pointed to the House Education Committee, which passed the original language by a 12-6 vote. When pressed if there was support outside of the Capitol, Fine said he has received emails from people who “support many parts of the bill.”   

Congressman Matt Gaetz added his voice to the controversy by quote-tweeting a tweet from state Rep. Anna Eskamani saying her colleagues should slow down on their consolidation efforts and listen to feedback from students and faculty members. Gaetz says Florida Poly should never have been created and that it was a boondoggle created to satisfy a powerful legislator. He’s referring to former Sen. J.D. Alexander, who lobbied hard for Florida Poly’s creation.

“My dear friend @richardcorcoran knows this to be true because he (almost) helped me in efforts to stop it,” Gaetz went on to name-check Education Commissioner Corcorcan.

Fine says removing the requirement that EASE and ABLE programs become means-tested financial aid was a result of discussions with members of the House and the Senate. The language was a non-starter in the Senate.

“We’re very comfortable with the EASE and ABLE program as it’s currently constituted,” Sen. Rob Bradley said.

But Senate President Bill Galvano has thrown his support behind a consolidation plan for New College, although he cautioned that he hasn’t made a final decision yet.

“The merger is one opportunity that could exist that needs to be discussed,” he said.

The new legislation keeps the original changes to Florida’sBright Futures” merit-based college scholarships. It rolls back the $300 a student stipend for textbooks to students receiving the top “Academic” scholarship.

It also keeps in place an expansion to the Florida Medallion Scholars award. Those recipients would receive a full ride beginning in Fall 2021 if they are enrolled in an associate degree program at a Florida College System institution. If they graduate with their associate degree with a 3.5 GPA or better, students could then transfer the scholarship to a four-year state college. Under the state’s current system, the second-tier “Medallion” only covers 75% of tuition. 

Sarah Mueller

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to sarah@floridapolitics.com.


6 comments

  • Concerned Constituent

    February 21, 2020 at 9:28 pm

    Why are they so desperate to go forward with consolidation without addressing the very vocal concerns about the irresponsible lack of details on implementation in this bill? With no stipulations on how this merger should occur, there is absolutely no reason to think ANY university would be a good fit to either save costs or maintain the a academic quality that exists at New College. This is ineptitude at the highest level.

    • Ismail Fraud

      February 22, 2020 at 1:17 am

      LOL at all this incredible “savings” merging the two schools into UF woll provide. New College’s entire budget is a rounding error in UF’s. UF has enough things on their own plate without having to divert resources trying to merge and onboard a university with 750 undergrads into their systems. This is going to end uo costing Florida taxpayers more manhours than it saves, which is why the politicians behind this are trying to hurry this through without any actual study, debate or analysis.

  • Alan M.

    February 22, 2020 at 8:44 pm

    “When pressed if there was support outside of the Capitol, Fine said he has received emails from people who ‘support many parts of the bill.'”

    How delightfully vague. So which parts, Mr. Fine? Let’s take a guess:

    – Mr. Fine and Mr. Oliva bundled three unrelated issues into one committee bill (EASE, Medallion Scholars, and the Nonsensical Merger Proposal).
    – There’s been nothing but pushback on EASE and a remarkable lack of factual support or even economically relevant data justifying the Merger… unless you put a hefty price on some obviously hurt feelings from 2012.
    – So… perhaps the people who “support many parts of the bill” are the ones who are in favor of the Medallion Scholars part of it, which – and I’m sure this is only a coincidence – was the only reason it got “yes” vote from Fine’s own Republican colleague Rep. Mariano in committee.

    For someone who portrays a “say it like it is” politician, Randy Fine somehow (even with Speaker Oliva whispering in his ear) lacks the political courage to give taxpayers the honest reason for this pathetic power trip… which ultimately has nothing to do with economics since the mergers will not save the state any money.

  • Emiro Gonzalez

    February 23, 2020 at 10:35 am

    The carelessness displayed by our legislators is truly mind boggling. First, the move to consolidate has been anything but transparent – a move this consequential requires more than a last-minute discussion with nearly nonexistent public input.
    Second, Florida Polytechnic University is in its very early history. To pretend that the only STEM university in the state is not a winning proposition basically negates the very nature of what the state of Florida politicians keep saying over and over: we are in desperate need of highly specialized science and technology professionals.
    UF, USF, UCF and the likes have NOT been able to keep up with the demand from NASA, Lockheed, Harris, etc. This was the reason for their endorsement in the first place.
    As true politicians, those in favor of merging the schools talk from both sides of their mouth. They should bring all the representatives from the companies that endorsed Florida Poly in the first place, look them in the eye and ask them what they think about this nonsense, and hear first-hand accounts of what this merger will mean for the local economy.
    Maybe then Mr. fine and Mr.Gaetz will back off…

  • Marcelle Adkins

    February 24, 2020 at 9:39 am

    I vehemently oppose PCS for HB 7087 on many grounds.

    I live in South Brevard County, a beautiful graceful place, in 1967, when I was 7. As such, I am now 60 so have lived in this great state for 53 years, attending public schools in South Brevard and the University of Florida. Professionally I earned a PhD in economics from UF, worked in State Government, taught at Florida State University and other colleges, and kept a consulting firm.

    As such and as is common for those of us with such legacy, I often sit wistfully, romantically even, thinking about the blessings of my past.

    I remember the physical Florida of my youth to be pristine and pure. I also remember our legislature was murky and dark. Slimy. Hidden. Back room deals. Inaccessible.

    But the late 60s was a time when true leaders stepped up and all Floridians rejoiced when Florida passed our Government in the Sunshine Law. (1967).

    It was also a time when we all looked at our feet and wondered if anyone of us had the strength of character and purpose Lawton had as he walked from the Panhandle to the Keys, speaking to seemingly every Floridian and caring what we thought. Floridians all beamed with pride as well when we saw Lawton carrying our beloved Sunshine Laws up to Washington, D.C. and our tenet of open government became the law of all our lands.

    Fast forward 53 years to today —- to the last 14 days, in particular —- and I have now seem the legislature has devolved back to a murky, dark, dank status. Specifically, on Monday, February 10, 2020, for the very first time, it became known to New College, Florida Polytechnic, FSU and UF that Randy Fine’s High Education Subcommittee of House Appropriations intended to shut down New College and Florida Polytechnic, transferring the administration of New College to FSU and of Florida Polytechnic to UF, along with cancelling a number of Bright Futures Scholarships.

    Then on Wednesday, February 12, 2020, Fine presented his bill to the Florida House Education Committee where he misrepresented facts (stating that he had informed UF and FSU, which he hadn’t), that all opposition was emotional and that his rationale was the higher costs of the schools along with the fact that New College has not met its enrollment objectives. Notably Fine also smirked when stating that, although he had not informed New College and Florida Polytechnic, anyone could have gone to any of his subcommittee’s meetings during the past 5 months.

    There was no legislative support amongst the House Education Committee, only confusion and a general perplexed attitude born of no information, along with numerous questions as to why their offices had received so many negative phone calls, a question left unanswered by Fine.

    Today, the bill moves on, arriving in the House Appropriations Committee tomorrow, with no companion bill in the Senate, no apparent supporters other than Fine, and no cost benefit analysis.

    Being Fine’s constituent, I have called and emailed his office repeatedly since Tuesday, February 12, 2020, writing and speaking of my detailed objections with no response. When asked publically about “What are the objections?”, Fine seems to forget.

    My heart aches for New College, in particular, as our son, a current Applied Mathematics and Computer Science student, aspires to go on to earn his PhD in Computer Science. He chose New College since it ranks #1 in the USA amongst public colleges for producing PhDs, with 18.1% of its graduates earning PhDs from 2012-2017 (NSF’s last reporting period), ahead of Cal Berkeley, the University of Virginia, Georgia Tech and other fine schools. New College also boasts many other fine benefits and ranks high in many other national rankings, but I will leave out those details in an effort to save space.

    But more so than aching for the mistreatment of New College and Florida Polytechnic and all students who rely on Bright Futures scholarships, I ache and yearn for the Florida of my youth and true democracy as a whole.

    Who has shoe leather in today’s dark, dank, musty world of today? Why do we not hear a clarion call for the Spirit of Government in the Sunshine? There is no fairness, collaboration or democracy by following only the letter of the law and smirking at its Spirit.

    Pam Bondi reminded me in the preface to a recent Government in the Sunshine manual of what Thomas Jefferson would have said about this.

    When learning that the Constitutional Convention was to be held in secrecy, Thomas Jefferson decried that as an “abdominal precedent” and stated that, “Nothing can justify this example but the innocence of their intentions and the ignorance of the value of public discussion.” Lawton Chiles cries out the same refrain from his grave and I echo the same from South Brevard.

    I also was awoken yesterday morning in my dream state hearing Horton talking to the people of Whoville. “Who are you?” “I can’t hear you.” “Speak louder.” And then concluding, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

    Where are the Horton’s of Florida’s State government today? Who has the big enough ears to even ask the questions much less listen?

    “Who are you little colleges?” “When were you founded?” “Why were you founded?” “Why are you important?’ “What value you do you have?” “Why are your costs high?” “What do you give us?” “Who are you?”

    Alas, I am left to mourn and pray as I am personally unable to walk to Tallahassee myself as I face several personal family health issues of older age along with my daily priorities and Federal jury duty responsibility for the next two weeks.

    But I do pray. I for our leaders that they might put on walking boots and Horton ears, that they may rule with the righteousness and justice that has been entrusted in them, that they would speak a loud “NO!!!” to all this and all legislative schemes that are developed absent public input or thorough analysis.

    Lord, bring back your Spirit of Government in the Sunshine to Tallahassee.

  • Mike

    February 24, 2020 at 3:48 pm

    UF is not the “flagship” University of the State of Florida. The State of Florida does not designate any university as the “flagship”. The closest they get is designating “preeminent” universities, of which there are now three (UF, FSU, and USF).

    I don’t know if UF wanted the schools, but you can be damn sure they didn’t want FSU absorbing the all-honors New College while they got stuck absorbing the absolute vanity-project boondoggle that we call Florida Polytechnic University. There is no way the massive egos in UF’s admin would ever allow that to happen.

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