Hampshire College of Massachusetts, known for its progressive, iconoclastic approach to higher education, is offering admission and a tuition match to all students at New College of Florida, a school with a similar philosophy that is being overhauled by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the conservative leaders he appointed to run it.
“This opportunity is in response to the continuing attacks on New College intended to limit intellectual exploration, turn back progress toward inclusion, and curtail open discussion of race, injustice and histories of oppression,” Hampshire said in a statement dated March 9. “By committing to impose a narrowly politicized curriculum on New College, the newly appointed trustees broke promises made to its current students to support a self-directed, rigorous education grounded in a commitment to free inquiry.”
Hampshire College, a private school in Amherst, Mass., with a fall 2021 undergraduate enrollment of 472 and tuition and fees of $54,812, offered to match the current cost of tuition for New College students who choose to transfer. Alumni include documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and Jon Krakauer, the author of “Into the Wild,” the best-seller about Chris McCandless, who lived in the wild before his body was found in an abandoned bus in Alaska.
New College, a state school in Sarasota, has an undergraduate enrollment of 632 and charges $6,916 for in-state tuition and fees and $29,944 for out-of-state students, according to the most recent U.S. News & World Report college rankings.
New College, founded in 1960, faces a transformation under its new president and six new board of trustees members hand-picked by DeSantis. In its first meeting at the end of February under interim president Richard Corcoran, a former Florida House speaker and state education commissioner, trustees voted to eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion “bureaucracies” at the state university system’s smallest campus. The board will close the Office of Outreach and Inclusive Excellence, banned mandatory diversity training and ended the college’s diversity statements. It also prohibited “identity-based preferences” in admissions, hiring and promotions.
Outgoing president Patricia Okker, who was fired, described a “hostile takeover” by conservatives who want to remake the school and adopt the values of Hillsdale College in Michigan, a small conservative college that pushed Florida to reject math textbooks and has been instrumental in overhauling how civics is taught at the state’s public schools, infusing the curriculum with Christianity and conservative ideologies.
Corcoran will earn a base salary of $699,000, plus more than $200,000 in added benefits, a pay bump of nearly $400,000 over Okker.
Student protests at New College
New College students have protested the changes. Hampshire said it had consulted with student organizers and is “proud to stand with students who crave a progressive education. Hampshire will provide a welcoming environment for all who want the freedom to study and act on the urgent challenges of our time, without ideological limits imposed by the state.”
Hampshire, founded in 1965, is a member of the Five College Consortium in Western Massachusetts that includes Amherst, Smith, Mount Holyoke and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. There are no majors or grades at Hampshire. Students create their own individual course of study and a series of six exams that must be passed to graduate.
Hampshire is confronting the same financial shortfalls challenging many of the country’s small, private colleges that depend heavily on student tuition and fees in a demographic cycle with a decreasing number of high school graduates. Increasing enrollment is one solution.
Binghamton University, part of the State University of New York, is also pitching its school’s academic freedom and welcoming culture to New College and other Florida students.
“To be blunt: those students, teachers and researchers whom some in Florida would like to silence or expel are very welcome here,” wrote Donald E. Hall, provost and executive vice president, in an opinion column posted Tuesday on the Herald’s Opinion and Commentary website.
Hampshire is encouraging New College students to come to its bucolic campus and take advantage of “a streamlined transfer process to ensure that they can continue their education without losing any credits and without an increase in their current tuition costs.”
“What is happening at New College of Florida is merely the most radical example of increasingly aggressive efforts to suppress meaningful examination of the realities of our society and curb the advancement of democratic ideals, aspirations that should be the mission of higher education,” the Hampshire statement said. “Increasingly, public institutions are a target for those trying to censor discussions of racism, white supremacy, gender identity, structural barriers to equity, and the reproduction of oppressive hierarchies.
“This doesn’t serve the students, it doesn’t serve democracy, and it certainly doesn’t serve the world those students seek to improve.”