New College President Richard Corcoran said a long-term plan for desired capital improvements has been wildly misread.
He said a five-year business plan requested by the state has wrongly been viewed as a demand for massive additional funding from the state. At a Board of Governors meeting in November, Corcoran presented a formal business plan that included $400 million for initial capital outlay on campus, a number first reported on the Higher Ed Dive blog and repeated in media reports frequently.
But Corcoran said the university was asked for a list of capital needs, and that number has been misunderstood. In a two-page informational sheet released by New College, Corcoran stressed that the total is not additional funding he expects the Legislature to provide within five years and that much of the funding will likely come from sources other than the state’s Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) funds.
“First, the $400 million included non-PECO funds of $173 million, which would be received from other indirect revenue sources (non-state funding), and $227 million in total PECO funding requests (state funding),” he wrote.
“Typically, capital investments are analyzed on the useful life of a building, which is 50 years. If any other state universities were asked to complete a five-year business plan with all future requests realized within five years, their capital request would likely be in the billions.”
But he also pushed back on frequent calculations on the investment based on single-year enrollment. Physical improvements to the New College campus, as on any university, will be enjoyed over the lifespan of structures. Government typically calculates the lifespan of a new building at 50 years, he notes.
On math that puts investment in the school at $571,000 per student, he said that’s intellectually dishonest.
“This is just silly. That argues that all $400 million would benefit only the approximately 600 students on campus in Spring 2023,” he wrote.
“NCF’s five-year business plan outlines investments in the campus that would benefit a growing student population for decades to come. Put simply, this calculation is a bad faith interpretation of what NCF is requesting. For example, the 1,200 plus beds NCF would like to construct are for the long-term functionality of the campus and cannot be treated as an investment attached to one single year of enrollment.”
The university also intends to increase enrollment by at least 100 students each year over the next five years, which also would impact such a calculation.
In the short term, Corcoran said his ask from the state is a much less lofty figure.
“NCF is immediately focused on securing $25 million in additional recurring base funding and $10 million in PECO funds,” he said.
“This request is a long-term commitment which would not require NCF to keep coming back to the Legislature year after year for operational funding. This long-term commitment is vital so that the college can make its own commitments — to its faculty, its students, and the community. As an alternative NCF is requesting $30 million in nonrecurring funding and $10 million in PECO funds to address more immediate needs of the campus. This amount would need to be requested each year to fulfill the needs as outlined in the business plan.”
Scrutiny of the college has stepped up since Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed a number of new trustees who promised to remake the small honors university into a model for conservative higher education. The new board promptly fired a former President and hired Corcoran, DeSantis’ former Education Commissioner, as President.
Corcoran has defended the moves and categorized them as necessary for the college’s future, noting the Legislature as recently as 2020 considered folding the school into another major university.
“The business plan recognizes the reformation and invigoration required to uphold NCF’s historic liberal arts mission following decades of decline,” Corcoran wrote. “It outlines an aspirational path to revitalize NCF and establish it as a model of excellence for the nation.”
He also noted the school intends to keep up its end of any negotiation and grow the school substantially in size.
“NCF views this business plan as an opportunity to highlight our far-reaching ambitions over the next five years for what we know this college can become — a world-class classical liberal arts education institution — provided the resources and commitment to do so,” he wrote.
“The plan includes goals from increasing enrollment from an historical average of about 600 students to over 1,600 to improving the New College Foundation’s fundraising performance, as well as the inspired tactics to achieve these goals such as offering new degree programs to expanding athletics and improving student experience and infrastructure.”