What is the ‘New College Growth Plan’?

Photo credit: Jacob Wentz
Photo credit: Jacob Wentz

“For the third consecutive year, New College did not score high enough on the Florida Board of Governors performance based metrics to receive performance funding,” President Don O’Shea wrote in the September State of the College Report. Our frustratingly low performance on state metrics has driven college leadership to propose some major changes to our campus.

Thus, the New College Growth Proposal was born. The document explains that our school is just too small to flourish.

“What stops New College from achieving true greatness is our scale and, in particular, the effects that follow from that scale,” the proposal read.

“We’re just not graduating enough of the students we have,” President O’Shea said at the Nov. 3, 2016 Board of Governors (BOG) Meeting. “Our graduation rate is only 57 percent.”

Why is it so low? “Over the last decade, New College directed most of its scarce dollars to Academic Affairs, resulting in very high academic quality at the expense of Residential Life and Student Affairs,” the proposal read. “We cannot fully accomplish [increasing our graduation rate] without additional investments to improve residential life and the student experience on campus.”

However, some members of the New College community remain skeptical that simply funneling more money into these areas will solve our problems.

“For me, the question is less about extracurricular activities… It’s more about how we can unite the community,” third-year SAC Chair Becca Caccavo said in an e-mail interview. “It’s funding the NCSA more. More RA events, bigger budget for PCPs, walls, clubs. It’s better food, and less mold. It’s allowing people to reclaim outdoor spaces, put couches outside. It’s putting speakers outside during lunch and playing a bunch of fun music everyone can dance and laugh to. It’s the simple shit that the institution has literally been taking away systematically and purposefully for years and then saying, ‘Hey, why are things getting worse?'”

“A second reason our graduation rate is not as high as it should be is that our academic program, while excellent, is just too thin,” O’Shea said at the Nov. 3 BOG meeting. “We have 79 professors to cover 30 disciplines. They’re stretched really thin. We need more breadth and more depth.”

Students have said they’d like a greater availability of majors to be offered, such as engineering, queer studies, journalism, linguistics, film, creative writing and ethnic studies programs such as Latin American Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, Africana Studies and Native American Studies.

College leadership has determined that both of these reasons for our low graduation rate, inadequate student affairs and thin academics, are related to New College’s small size. “We’re simply not big enough,” O’Shea said at the Nov. 3 BOG meeting.

As outlined in the Growth Proposal, retention and graduation rates are increased when the college population reaches around 1200 students.

“At this size, one can sustain a broad range of majors. More students also support more student activities, which in turn helps retention.”

So, what would it take to reach that benchmark?

“Getting to 1200 means growing by nearly 50 percent. Maintaining the current 10:1 student-faculty ratio would require hiring 40 additional full-time faculty members,” the proposal read.

Within the next four years, New College is looking to hire 40 new faculty and 61 additional staff – 15 faculty and 29 staff in 2017-18, 15 faculty and 20 staff in 2018-19, and 10 faculty and 12 staff in 2019-20.

For our tiny institution, this massive wave of new hires is an overwhelming change that could greatly shift campus culture for several decades, especially considering that out of 103 faculty at New College, only 11 are racial or ethnic minorities. The next few years hold the opportunity for current and incoming students on hiring committees to greatly increase diversity among faculty and staff.

And what did the Board of Governors have to say about New College’s Growth Proposal? There was an overwhelming agreement among Board members that our school ought to be given a few dozen million dollars to enhance our academic capacity.

“To not make this investment, we run the risk of losing one of the things we market the most about our state university system,” Governor Darlene Jordan said at the Nov. 3, 2016 BOG meeting. “[All your accomplishments are] so impressive, especially after visiting your facilities. You don’t have anything that you’re offering to your students other than academics, and I think we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t support their efforts to provide their students who are coming to this university a well-rounded experience.”

At the end of the Nov. 3, 2016 BOG meeting, the Board of Governors unanimously voted to forward New College’s Growth Proposal to the Board’s Budget and Finance Committee for further consideration.

For links to read the New College Growth Proposal or watch the 6/22/2016 or 11/3/2016 Board of Governor’s meetings, look for the online version of this article on ncfcatalyst.com

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