In 2001, New College of Florida (NCF), after being maintained as the Honors College of the University of South Florida (USF), split off and became the eleventh Florida state university. It was a long and difficult process, which eventually paid off to produce the NCF of today. In a move that parallels NCF’s own split, it was announced over the summer that USF Polytechnic, located in Lakeland, Fla., is undergoing plans to split away from USF as well.
In order for this split to take place, the Florida Board of Governors (BOG) must vote on whether or not to admit the school as the twelfth state university of Florida, the tentative title of which is Florida Polytechnic. Second-year, New College Student Alliance (NCSA) co-president and BOG student representative Michael Long sat down with the Catalyst to shed some light on the positive and negative effects of the possible separation.
“[The pitch] was brought forth by [Senator] J.D. Alexander, who is the Chairman for the State Legislation on Higher Education,” Long explained. “His latest proposal was made on Sept. 13 in Miami.”
According to Long, Alexander and many prominent business men from the I-4 corridor approached the BOG at the meeting, giving a list of reasons for why it would be prudent for USF Polytechnic to split from the USF system. One of the main arguments was that when USF Polytechnic petitioned USF to introduce upwards of twelve different degree programs, only three were approved. Alexander went on record pointing out that for all of the money that the state has put into developing and training future workers they are not getting a return on their investment.
On the whole, it seems that much of the community of Lakeland is in support of the split, with business owners, civic leaders, politicians, The Polk County Commission and even USF Polytechnic Chancellor Marshall Goodman, publicly announcing his position as in favor of the split. However, many still urge caution. Former state senator and current NCF board member Robert Johnson, who was integral in NCF’s own split from USF, told The Ledger how complex and, ultimately, expensive the whole endeavor will be.
The other thing to remember, as Long pointed out in his interview, is that when NCF split from USF it already had the facilities to support such a change, including dorms, classrooms and a library. USF Polytechnic does not and would thus require money and time to develop such an infrastructure.
Money, being the glue that holds the world together, is also a large concern for the Florida BOG. Although Alexander stated that USF Polytechnic has already received enough pledged support to fund the split, what happens when this money runs out? With all of the budget cuts and tuition hikes that are happening state-wide every year it stands to reason that, eventually, USF Polytechnic will be eating out of the communal bowl, and the other eleven state universities will continue to lose federal and local government subsidies.
The possible other concern is that Alexander, who has not shown restraint in pushing his political clout around to have the split approved, will continue to sit on the state budget committee until the end of this term. His connection to the funding of the eleven existing universities is unnerving to some, especially if the USF Polytechnic split does not take place.
The other side of the coin, of course, is student reaction to the whole situation. Long cited a student survey during his interview, which asked student opinions on the split. Although only 15 percent of the student body responded, 85 percent of the respondents were recorded as being against the split.
“One of the big problems is how this will affect the students,” Long said. “[If the split occurs] will currently-enrolled students graduate as if from USF Polytechnic? What about all of the students enrolled in courses online from other USF campuses? If USF Polytechnic splits, the new university won’t be as accredited, and students would be getting degrees from a school that has no reputation in the workforce and no national ranking.”
Long emphasized that if the current student body does not approve of the split, if they put their minds to the task, their voice will be heard. Although there is a lot of political and communal support for the split, student action can often speak louder than their words.