Florida Polytechnic Merger Proposal Facing Opposition

Opposition is mounting to a surprise proposal to integrate Florida Polytechnic University into the University of Florida. The Lakeland-based STEM university’s president said he would attend today’s Florida House Education Committee meeting to oppose the bill, and Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, said she will press to keep Florida Poly “autonomous.”

“I was surprised when the PCB (proposed committee bill) came out,” Burton told The Ledger Tuesday after news of the bill was first reported by Florida Politics. “Quite frankly, I don’t know what the rationale is for why we would want to do that.”

The bill, PCB EDC 20-03, emerged from the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, where Chairman Randy Fine, a Brevard County Republican, said it’s a matter of fiscal prudence.

“If we can stop spending $180,000 per degree and start spending $20,000 per degree we could get nine kids educated for what we are presently paying to educate one. It’s a winner for our students and it’s a winner for the state.” Fine told Tampa’s ABC Action News.

Florida Poly countered that “the facts and the truth show that every dollar at Florida Polytechnic University is already having a maximum positive impact” in providing “a core STEM education available nowhere else in our state.

The bill would also fold Sarasota’s New College into Florida State University.

Florida Poly, with about 1,340 students, and New College, a liberal arts institution with about 850 students, are the newest of the state’s 12 public universities and by far the smallest.

Florida Poly opened south of I-4 and west of the eastern terminus of the Polk Parkway in 2014 after lawmakers separated it from the University of South Florida two years earlier.

New College, which prides itself on educating “intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement,” separated from the University of South Florida in 2001.

The bill appears to have been drafted “without knowledge or input from any of the affected universities or members of the Board of Governors,” New College President Donal O’Shea said in an email to the college’s community.

Full text of Florida Polytechnic’s statement about the bill:

Respecting every taxpayer dollar and maximizing the impact of those dollars is clearly at the heart of this legislative proposal. But the facts and the truth show that every dollar at Florida Polytechnic University is already having a maximum positive impact. That’s why we respectfully and strongly oppose this unnecessary and unwarranted legislation. We stand behind the fact that we have accomplished, and continue to accomplish, great things as a separate, unique institution within the State University System. Florida’s future lies in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and Florida Poly offers a core STEM education available nowhere else in our state. In its young life, Florida Poly has been doing the job it was created for. Our projections show enrollment growth, and applications have nearly doubled. This university has a substantial economic impact for the benefit of all of Florida, and our recently earned ABET accreditation is a testimony to the high standards of our academic degrees. A recent study showed that Florida Poly grads can expect a return on their investment that is more than three times larger than the other universities in the system.  It would be a profound mistake, for our current and future students – and for the state of Florida – to diminish Florida Poly’s role in meeting this important state objective.

Peter Schorsch, founder of the Florida Politics website editorialized against the proposal under the fanciful headline: Surprise proposal to fold Florida’s smaller universities into flagships fails the fair facts and truth review and analysis.

A key paragraph: “This proposed committee bill zeroes in on only one statistic: cost per student, essentially measuring the size of the school’s budget divided by how many students it has. It doesn’t say anything about tuition costs for students, average debt coming out of school, employability of graduates, quality of programs, or any other factors that really matter to students, parents, state lawmakers, taxpayers, and the future. The proposal also ignores the significant economic impact these smaller universities have on their communities, regions and our state – completely omitting any facts or math that accurately undermine the flawed reasoning in this institutional raid.”

There is currently no Senate companion to the House bill.

The proposed legislation would strip both institutions of their independent accreditation and transfer their assets to the two larger universities.

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