Board Approves $1.1 Million for New College of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — New College of Florida is in line to receive $1.1 million in what is known as performance-based funding after state university system officials on Wednesday signed off on a “student success plan monitoring report” presented by the school’s president, Richard Corcoran.

The small liberal arts school in Sarasota was eligible to receive about half of a larger pot of nearly $4.2 million in performance funds from the state, after failing to reach an adequate score based on factors such as graduation rates. New College initially received roughly $1.1 million last year after presenting the plan to the state university system’s Board of Governors.

Corcoran on Tuesday provided an update on the school’s progress toward reaching eight goals laid out in the student success plan. For example, Corcoran said that more than $5.5 million in what the school called “campus life improvements” have been completed on campus. The expenditures included adding turf to outdoor study areas, improvements to an on-campus fitness center and library, adding security cameras and re-opening a cafe, according to the report.

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“All of those things, from dormitories, to housing, to food, to campus life, everything has been completely redone,” Corcoran said to members of the board’s Budget and Finance Committee.

Corcoran and the New College Board of Trustees have sought to make major changes at the school after Gov. Ron DeSantis last year revamped the board with a slate of conservative appointees.

New College also in September set out to issue more than $400,000 in “internship scholarships” to more than 200 new students as the school has sought to increase enrollment.

“We awarded $438,940 to 223 new students,” a presentation given to the committee Tuesday said.

Committee member Eric Silagy asked about the student scholarships, which Corcoran said provide recipients with $2,000 for securing internships. Silagy pointed to data provided by New College that said the school had a 65 percent student retention rate during the 2022-23 academic year, and a goal of reaching a 75 percent retention rate for the current school year.

Silagy asked whether New College is giving the $2,000 scholarships to students up-front and questioned if the school would recuperate scholarship money if a student withdrew.

“Like you said, you’re hoping to get to a 75 percent retention rate. Which means 25 percent are not going to be there,” Silagy said.

“There’s no clawback, because they don’t get access to that $2,000 until they are enrolled in that internship,” Corcoran said.

Silagy’s also questioned whether the money had already been disbursed.

“So the $430,000 hasn’t been distributed,” Silagy said, “it’s just reserved for them to do that?”

“That’s correct,” Corcoran said.

Corcoran, a Republican former Florida House speaker, also said that one of the eight goals laid out by the school has not yet been reached.

“This is sort of the only little blip. We had told you guys we would hire and train four academic coaches. What we did over the course between our September pitch to you guys and now, is we created two senior academic coaches and we’re allowing those … coaches to hire four more,” Corcoran said.

Board of Governors member Alan Levine, who is chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee, supported the board’s approval of the plan even though the hiring goal had not been completed.

Levine said Tuesday that a different university previously had encountered a similar issue in the past “where they were in the process of hiring, and we gave them credit for it, because it was being done.”

“And I would encourage us to do that today. Because we do have a precedent for it. And I think that it’s clear that progress has been made toward this student achievement plan,” Levine said.

The full Board of Governors gave final approval to the New College plan and authorized the release of the funds on Wednesday.

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Jono Miller, president of the group NCF Freedom that has opposed actions by Corcoran and the revamped trustees board, spoke in favor of the release of $1,099,013 to the school.

“Because the current administration did substantially implement the initiatives outlined in the student success plan,” Miller said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Florida Legislature earmarked tens of millions of dollars in state funds for the university in the state spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year. The budget needs approval from DeSantis.

The state budget includes $15 million for New College that would have to be spent on things such as temporary student housing and academic coaches, but there are some strings attached. New College officials would have to submit a detailed business plan to the Board of Governors outlining “the institution’s long-term student enrollment goals and how it will use the funding provided by the state to achieve these goals.”

The budget would steer a separate $10 million to the school for “operational enhancements,” with Corcoran and the New College trustees given discretion on how the funds are spent.

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