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Plan merging New College and Polytechnic under University of Florida heads to full House

'A lot of students are scared'
Posted at 7:55 PM, Feb 25, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The future of two Florida colleges was on the line Tuesday evening. House lawmakers in the Appropriations Committee approving a controversial bill merging New College of Florida and Florida Polytechnic with a bigger school. The vote happening along party lines.

House Bill 7087 now heads to the full chamber.

The consolidation could save Florida money. The latest version of the bill puts Poly and New College under the University of Florida by July 2021, eliminating administration costs and lowering the state price on tuition.

“For every one student we educate at these schools there is five we can’t educate," said Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, before the meeting.

Fine, the bill's sponsor, said he crafted it to prep for a financial belt-tightening, saying it's only a matter of time before Florida has a recession. Saving now, Fine believed, benefited everyone later.

“The risk for schools like this is that they just get closed," Fine said. "We can’t afford a school where it costs $200,000 a degree when we have schools where it costs $20,000.”

Watching in the audience, Polytechnic students sporting buttons with #SupportFLPoly. Sophomore Samantha Ashby there to tell lawmakers she’s afraid of the unknowns of a takeover.

“A lot of students are scared," she said. "We don’t know exactly what will happen with our degree plans. We don’t do the normal gen-eds.”

The group of students coming to the capitol building after New College students and staff tried similar lobbying last week. College President Don O’Shea joining them to kill House Bill 7087.

“It’s a top school in the nation," O’Shea said. "What’s to fix?”

Critics, like O'Shea, point out savings would be small. The two schools are less than 2 percent of the $6 billion higher education budget.

Polytechnic President Randy Avent saying before the hearing the economic impact of his school vastly outweighs tax dollar savings.

"Last year alone, we had a $285 million economic impact to the state," said Avent. "I would hate to save a questionable three to five million dollars and lose $285 million."

Despite Tuesday's advancement, the bill faces a tough battle ahead. It'll need to get through the full House and Senate chambers, despite gaining opposition on both sides of the aisle.

Republicans have largely supported the bill thus far, and though they hold a majority in both chambers, they have a more narrow margin in the Senate. There, two GOP members have already come out against the bill, state GOP Chair Sen. Joe Gruters and Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel.