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Top Lawmakers Claim Cost Savings In Florida Polytech, New College Dissolution Despite No Evidence

As a plan to combine New College of Florida and Florida Polytechnic University with the University of Florida advances, it's raising questions about costs—specifically, whether the state will save money.  Critics says lawmakers need to slow down in order to get a full accounting of the plan.  The state’s top two legislative leaders say they’re not worried.

Also in the ‘not-worried about costs camp is the proposal’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Randy Fine. He says he’s leaving it to the University of Florida to work out the finer details.

“Do we know the cost savings? We do not. And the reason is that we are not going to tell the University of Florida how to do this. We are not going to micromanage them. We’re going to tell them, ‘you figure it out’' knowing you’re [UF’s] administrative costs are under 10%, knowing your cost-to-degree is one-sixthof what it is at these other schools," he said in a recent legislative hearing. 

Fine has fielded Democratic concerns over whether his plan is being rushed, and the objections of New College and Florida Polytechnic University which say the numbers Fine's plan is based on—the schools’ cost-per-degree to the state, are inaccurate. Both universities are about three times higher than other state universities.

Fine says his numbers come from the state university system governing board which has not told him the numbers aren't correct. 

During the most recent hearing on the proposal, few Republicans voiced support but voted in favor of it. There is no companion bill in the Senate, however Senate President Bill Galvano says he remains open to the discussion. Galvano says he's been concerned about New College for years. 

"Thirty-seven percent  of their base budget has been filled with enhanced payments [from the state]," Galvano says of New College. "It’s still a very expensive degree."

The legislature has been giving the school extra money to keep it afloat and help grow its enrollment, but the results have been lackluster so far. New College's enrollment has actually fallen in recent years but so has enrollment in universities across the nation.

"I care about the school. It’s in my backyard, and I want to see it successful. But if it can’t get there, and needs greater oversight or to be folded into a bigger umbrella, we’ll get there. That’s still an alive issue," Galvano says.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Jose Oliva says while he’d normally not be okay with moving ahead with plans where the cost is unknown, this situation is different.

“I would say that no, I’d rather have a cost analysis, but we do know there will be significant cost savings.”

A reporter asked how Oliva knew that without a cost-benefit analysis, and Oliva replied, "because we know what it costs to educate kids in the rest of our university system and we know what it cost to educate kids there.” 

New College of Florida and Florida Polytechnic were once affiliated with the University of South Florida. New College broke off from USF in 2001, and Florida Polytechnic was USF’s Lakeland campus and spun off into its own school at the behest of then-Senate President JD Alexander, and over the objection of USF Faculty, staff, students and the school’s former President.  At the time, there were concerns about the cost of the school to the state, and that was recently raised again but North Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz who, on twitter, called Florida Polytechnic a “boondoggle” that he tried to stop when he was in the legislature. 

Oliva was still early in his legislative career at the time the decision to create Florida Polytech was made. He voted for the plan, and was asked about Gaetz’s comments.

I don’t know it was a failure of the legislature. Continuing to allow it would be a failure of the legislature," he said. 

Both Florida Poly and New College are fighting to stay independent. Students, staff and alumni are making the rounds to plead their case to lawmakers. Governor Ron DeSantis has said he believes the schools should be anchored back at the University of South Florida. How much any of this will cost? That’s anyone’s guess.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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