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The Metrics Show New College of Florida Isn't Broken—Why is DeSantis Trying to "Fix" It?

On January 6, soon after being sworn in to a second term as Florida governor, Ron DeSantis appointed six new conservative members to the board of New College, a tiny public liberal arts institution that few Americans have heard of. The move drew national attention—in part because DeSantis, a likely 2024 presidential candidate, had made taking on “wokeism” in his state’s education system a defining feature of his first term, but also because of the audacity of his plan for New College. 

The school’s progressive culture, the governor charged, is failing to give its students the grounding they need to become productive workers and citizens. He therefore tasked the board with remaking it in the image of Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian institution in Michigan focused on the “great books.” “The core curriculum must be grounded in actual history, the actual philosophy that has shaped Western civilization,” DeSantis said. “We don’t want students to go through, at taxpayer expense, and graduate with a degree in zombie studies.”

Politically, DeSantis chose his target well. Founded in 1960 as a private college and later merged into the state university system, New College is famous for its alternative learning style and left-leaning population, with a high percentage of LGBTQ students. Professors give written evaluations rather than grades, and students follow a “contract” system in which, each semester, they agree to pass a certain number—not necessarily all—of their classes. Courses on offer include “Race and Ethnicity in Global Perspective,” with readings from the social justice scholar Ibram X. Kendi, and “Going Viral: Making Video Art for the Internet.” (No textbook required.) Located on Sarasota Bay just down the road from Siesta Key Beach, it is affectionately called by its students “Barefoot U.”

New College, however, is an odd choice for DeSantis’s ire in one crucial respect: On most measures of actual outcomes, the school performs at a remarkably high level. Indeed, on the Washington Monthly’s latest college rankings, which rate colleges on measures of upward mobility, research, and service, it comes in 41st out of 203 liberal arts colleges in America. On U.S. News’s more conventional list, it ranks 76th. Indeed, New College outperforms other Florida public institutions of higher learning and most of the conservative colleges and universities that DeSantis’s trustees point to as models for how they want to remake the school. 

Read entire article at Washington Monthly