Since its beginning stages in spring of 2016, the Growth Plan has been an extensive project at the forefront of the administration. The plan is advertised as “a transformational moment in New College history,” in which the college will expand its student enrollment by 50 percent, hire new faculty and staff and spend $45 million on construction for new campus spaces. Despite the significance of the plan, around one-third of current students feel that they are uninformed about what it means for the future of the college.
Reasons for growth
New College is the smallest of the 12 schools in the State University System of Florida. According to the Enrollment Growth Proposal, the cost of a New College education is the lowest in the university system and New College students graduate with the lowest amount of debt in the state.
Every year, the Florida Board of Governors assesses all of the schools in the State University System on 10 metrics. Two of these metrics are specialized towards New College, while eight are the same for other institutions in Florida.
In 2017, New College accumulated a score of 75, putting it behind 5 other schools in the University System. The University of Florida (UF) topped the list with a score of 95. The college’s performance on these metrics determines how much annual funding it receives from the state.
The two metrics that the college did particularly poor on were metric one and metric four. Metric one is “the percent of bachelor’s graduates employed and/or continuing their education further 1 year after graduation” and metric four concerns “six year graduation rates (full-time and part-time).”
“I’m not quite sure why we do poor on [metric one], some say it’s thesis burnout, some students decide to take the year off, some students may need to take the year off to work, while other students may be well off and decide to take the year to travel around the world,” President Donal O’Shea said. “The metrics had hurt us, they really had.”
In addressing the problems with metrics, the Growth Plan will allow New College to increase its four-year graduation rate to more than 80 percent, provide more interns and graduates to stoke the local economy and will further increase New College’s throughput as a critical pipeline for Florida’s scientists and scholars.
The college plans on hiring 40 new faculty members over the next three years. Eleven new members have already been hired, putting the administration on track for reaching its goal of 15 additional faculty this year. An increase in the amount of faculty will bring new areas of interest to the college while also strengthening disciplines across the board.
“I don’t want to constrict the faculty into a certain structure in terms of what discipline they are in,” Provost Barbara Feldman said referencing the interdisciplinary areas of study that the new hires specialize in. Some of these areas include Global English, International Migration, Islamic Studies, Environmental Ethics, Digital Media Arts, Latin American Studies and Ethnomusicology.
“We’ve been getting top candidates. Faculty want to come here; they want to teach here and they want to be a part of this great thing that’s going on,” Feldman said. “We’re having excellent success, not just in filling the lines, but in filling them with prime people.”
According to the Enrollment Growth Proposal, the college started with 81 full-time faculty members. The college intends to grow this figure to 121 by 2020.
“It’s hard to cover the liberal arts disciplines […] you need 25 to 35 disciplines and you need about 4 to 5 professors in each, you do the math and you get around 120 faculty,” O’Shea said.
Increasing the number of faculty members goes hand in hand with increasing the enrollment of students.
“We’re not going to get to 120 faculty without having 1200 students,” O’Shea said, alluding to the 10:1 student to faculty ratio, “and already the state is suspicious of that 10-to-1 number.”
Hiring more professors ensures that students have multiple choices of who to work with for their theses. It also provides some security within disciplines, which means professors would be able to take research leaves without worrying about what would happen at the college.
“We’ve just got one biochemist, for example,” O’Shea said. “And if they decide to go [on a research leave], and they need to do that, then people aren’t going to graduate on time. A replacement would have to be hired for a year, and that’s hard to do in some areas.”
One of the underlying missions of New College is to promote student-faculty collaboration. When students need help deciding which academic paths to explore, input on thesis ideas, letters of recommendation and general advice about life and the future they would like to forge, the relationship that they develop with professors becomes extremely important.
In a survey in which 100 current students responded, 89 percent agreed or strongly agreed that in terms of academics, the Growth Plan will be beneficial to future of the college.
Student life and change
“The goal of growing to about 1,200 has been around—that predates me,” O’Shea said. “Mike Michaelson, the president before me, actually mentioned in one of his outgoing interviews that it’s no secret that we need to be a bit bigger.”
O’Shea compared the growth to other high-ranking liberal arts colleges, mentioning that the smallest college within the top 50 U.S. News & World Report Best National Liberal Arts Colleges that is not a part of a consortium is Haverford with 1,268 students.
“But those rankings can be a bit artificial. They’re bogus,” O’Shea said. “They don’t really measure the quality of the education, they catch pieces of it. It seems like you’re in a sort of beauty contest, but they’re an unfortunate reality with which we’ve got to live.”
Both O’Shea and Feldman are confident that an increase to 1,200 students will not change the values that define New College. The website also states that New College “will not change in character.” Current students feel differently, though: 83 percent agree or strongly agree that the Growth Plan will change the character of New College.
“The whole underlying assumption here is that change is not good and staying the same is good and I don’t buy that automatically as a basic assumption,” Feldman said. “The things that are good should stay the same and the things that are not optimal should change.”
Feldman explained that the things that she thinks should stay the same are the college’s ethos, values and commitments. She also referenced the college’s commitment to encouraging students to explore their intellectual curiosities with various resources and interdisciplinary perspectives.
“You’re going to see a lot of change in your lifetime. It’s like a constant—the only thing you can count on is that things will change,” Feldman said. “Part of the college experience should be about teaching you to embrace change, manage change, not be afraid of change, and so I think we’d be doing our students a disservice if we somehow tried to isolate ourselves from what’s going on and not change.”
The college plans on increasing enrollment in order to perform better on metrics, to raise retention rate, to launch New College into the forefront of national liberal arts colleges and, ultimately, to enhance the quality of education through the amount of resources it receives. By improving the metrics in which we underperform, the college will earn more state funding and be able to provide students with more and better resources.
“The fact that you have a college of faculty and administration that are working hard to promote those values and those ethos and use that as a guiding post to whatever we do is a good thing,” Feldman said. “A minimal size will allow us to deliver better on the things that we want our students to have and we’re not able to do for them now. So it’s not growth just to be bigger, it’s growth to do better the things that we already do well.”
Designing new spaces
In April of 2017, the college went through a charrette process in which input was obtained from a student group, a faculty group and a staff group. Some of the ideas that emerged were that, with an increase of 400 students, the campus should be more friendly, more open and more accessible.
These ideas, in addition to a suggestion from the state that the project should be a large centralized building as opposed to multiple smaller buildings, resulted in the drafting of an early plan.
“It was a community building thing and a way to get some ideas out from a lot of different people,” Director of Physical Plant Alan Burr said.
The plan, though still susceptible to change, includes new residential spaces, food services, faculty offices, parking lots and more. The buildings have been designed to sit across from the Heiser Natural Sciences Complex, as various restrictions limit the space available.
The site constraints include FEMA flood zones across the bay and up to the Four Winds Cafe, the residential side being leased from the airport and a large chunk extending northeast of Heiser being a runway protection zone.
“We have a limit of what we can building under here height-wise,” Burr said, referring to the runway protection zone.
Because of the height constraints, Burr would like to use the land that falls into the runway protection zone as an additional parking lot.
“The goals of the project were to create not only capacity for more faculty and staff and students, but also to create more of a community and heart of campus and to include more student activity spaces for clubs and resources,” Burr said.
The design was drafted on top of where the Palmer Buildings currently are. Both the Counseling and Wellness Center (CWC) and B Dorm would remain, but the other Palmer buildings would be demolished for the proposed buildings. The plan was not officially adopted, however, and served as an early guideline to get people thinking about the future of campus spaces.
The Campus Master Plan calls for an additional 360,000 square feet of buildings to grow to 1,200 students. Attempting to obtain funding from the state for such a large project will be difficult, so the college is looking into the possibility of public-private partnerships.
The Enrollment Growth Proposal states that “we believe we can satisfy our need for two 200-bed residence halls through a P3 and, in the short term, through a partnership with local developers to convert nearby motels into student housing.”
“When we need room, we’ll build or get portables. We’ll make it work,” Feldman said.
The Growth Plan will undoubtedly bring change to New College. Change can be scary, but it can also be exciting. Provost Feldman discussed the importance of using one’s voice and letting one’s ideas be heard. There are ways for students to contribute to the discussion: through new faculty feedback, student design committees, Board of Trustees meetings and more. For those who have strong feelings about the Growth Plan and the direction that the college is heading in, do not wait until it is too late: be heard.
Information obtained from ncf.edu, flbog.edu, usnews.com and surveymonkey.com