Florida honors university receives low state funding rank

New College of Florida

New College of Florida  (Simply Spotted Photography)

It has been ranked in the top five best value liberal arts colleges and one of the best public liberal arts universities by well-respected college ranking institutions. But a new performance ranking system in Florida for public universities may mean New College of Florida (NCF) will miss out on millions of dollars of state funding because it ranks low by the new criteria.

Located in Sarasota, Fla., New College is a small liberal arts university that focuses on independent research and collaboration rather than credit hours and GPAs. It is designated by the Florida legislature as the state’s honors liberal arts college.

However, a new Florida state funding system focuses on a university’s ability to prepare its students for the workforce, and New College is failing that grade. It is one of three state schools that fell below the required standards and will not receive any of the $100 million the state is allocating to public universities. The other two are the University of West Florida in Pensacola and Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

The low grade means it may not receive any new funds and could see its annual budget slashed. For a small school of just under 800 undergraduates and some 75 research and instructional faculty members, that money will be a major loss.

The three low scoring universities are set to lose 1.0 percent of their base budget because of their ranking this year. But lawmakers want that to eventually go to 5.0 percent of their base budget in order to ensure universities take the standards seriously.

The new ranking system judges the universities on 10 different criteria, such as whether students go to graduate school or are employed full time within a year of graduation, starting salaries, and average cost of the undergraduate degree. The Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the state’s public universities, decided on the system earlier this year.

The Performance Funding Model Overview breaks down how each of the universities scored. New College, which is known to be an honors college for Florida, with its incoming freshman class having an average GPA of 3.92, was disappointed by its low grade but not surprised.

Media Relations Coordinator for New College David Gulliver told in an email interview that New College was aware of the criteria that would be used in the ranking system. “We were aware of the metrics as they were being developed, and realized that some of them would not accurately reflect New College’s strengths,” said Gulliver.

The system does not track students who leave the state for work and it does not count students who go overseas for graduate school. Gulliver said that because the metrics only look at students who go to graduate school within a year after graduation, it misses the large number of students who go on to get graduate degrees within five years.

“Sixty-five point seven percent -- almost two out of three - attend graduate school within five years,” said Gulliver of New College’s students. In 2013, U.S. News and World Report ranked it as one of the top universities in the nation for students who continue higher education after undergrad. For the school to score so low on the state system is surprising.

Gulliver also said that many of its students find employment outside of the state and the system does not take into account those students. “By looking only at students in Florida, the metric excludes the majority of our most successful students,” said Gulliver.

Another number hurting New College is the median wages of its recent graduates. New College graduates were making only $21,000 annually compared to every other public university in Florida, where grads made $30,000 or more.

Michael Long, a recent graduate of New College, said he chose to go to NCF because he believed he could shape his college experience and curriculum at the university. He said he felt much more accountable with the narrative evaluation he received from his professors than he would have with a traditional GPA. Long, who works in Washington, D.C. for a Florida member of Congress, felt his required senior thesis prepared him, “without a doubt,” for his career because of his research training and leadership.

Long, who is a Truman Scholar, said the senior research project also helps students going into fields like non-profits or government. But he thinks some NCF students focus too much on academic discourse rather than deciding what they want to do as a career -- explaining why they may take so long to graduate from undergrad.

“I’ll be the first to admit that our career center was not great,” said Long.

Gulliver said after the low marks on the ranking system, the school is planning to strengthen its advising process and training faculty to help students graduate on time. He said it is also investing in its career counseling and internship programs. Gulliver believes that will “lead to improvements on both the median salary metric and the percentage employed or in graduate school.”

Long said he knows people who take a year or year and a half after school to go work in coffee shops, or volunteer in other countries. “It doesn’t sound successful, but is the right thing to do for them at that time.” He said it is due to the stressful nature of the senior year projects all the students complete.

While Long said there are improvements he thinks the college needs, and the new ranking system points out, he’s not sure if the funding model takes into account how different New College is from the other 11 public universities.

Sooner or later the Florida funding model may be updated to reflect the uniqueness of NCF, Long said. “If something is unfair, it will come out.”

Gulliver said the university has submitted a plan to the Board of Governors on how New College will improve in order to meet state standards. He said the board will reinstate the lost funding if the college is able to meet the targets outlined in their improvement plan.

“The board approved our plan, and we’re extremely confident that we’ll hit our targets and have the funding restored,” said Gulliver.