TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida House Education Committee passed a measure Wednesday to revoke the independence of the state's two smallest public universities, with supporters arguing moving them under the control of larger institutions would reduce overhead expenses they view as untenable.
- If measure passes, Florida Polytechnic would become part of the University of Florida
- New College in Sarasota would become part of Florida State University
- Opposition to measure bipartisan
- More Florida Government stories
The schools — Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland and New College in Sarasota — would fall under the administrative umbrellas of the University of Florida and Florida State University, respectively.
The actual cost of an undergraduate degree at the eight-year-old Florida Poly is roughly four times as much as a degree at UF, a disparity the proposal's sponsor, Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay), told the committee can be solved by leveraging the larger university's much bigger economy of scale.
"In this process we have a lot of politics, but sometimes we have to focus on policy," Fine said. "See, there's no one who's going to stand up here and say 'hey, it's great to take away people's scholarships' or 'it's great to close a university.' That doesn't mean it's not the right thing. I was asked to do this job because I have no fealty to any of these schools. My goal is for us to provide the best higher education we can at the lowest possible cost."
But while the panel approved the late-filed legislation, the votes against it were bipartisan. Some lawmakers expressed concern that the proposal would make it more difficult for Florida Poly and New College to achieve top-tier 'preeminence' status within the state university system.
Others weren't happy about the measure's elimination of the state's EASE grants, which provide tuition assistance to Florida residents attending in-state private colleges and universities.
As for potential cost savings, Florida Poly President Randy Avent said shifting administrative control of his campus to the University of Florida wouldn't result in the tens of millions of dollars Fine predicted would result from passage of his proposal. Most of Poly's students are pursuing STEM degrees, which Avent told the committee are inherently more expensive than liberal arts degrees.
He also voiced concern about what revoking Poly's independence could mean for what he called the university's unique character.
"What I'm really concerned about is having that small institution where you can have an intimate, high-touch model with the faculty, where students can do hands-on learning, because it's very important for them to do that for their workforce, but also learn theory of fundamentals," Avent told reporters after Wednesday's vote. "And I think that's a unique education that's offered only in smaller institutions."