Aug 15, 2023 - Education

New College students take transfer deal from Massachusetts liberal arts school

Supporters of New College of Florida sit on a curb holding protest signs. Among the sign messages: "POWER TO THE STUDENTS POWER TO THE TEACHERS," "Defend Educational Freedom," "CHRIS RUFO RESIGN NOW" and "We <3 New College."

Students during a Defend New College protest in January. Photo: Octavio Jones/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Basil Pursley stayed at New College of Florida through the sudden conservative takeover of the Board of Trustees. He stayed through the tumultuous semester that followed, working out a plan with his faculty advisers to expedite graduation. He stayed when one of those advisers left for another job in academia.

Yes, but: Last month, Pursley found out he and his partner were among the students being pushed out of apartment-style dorms to make room for a new class of student-athletes.

  • He started to hear that displaced students were going to be placed in hotels near campus. It was a step too far.

State of play: Pursley, 20, took an offer from Hampshire College, a small liberal arts school in Massachusetts. In the wake of the takeover, Hampshire leaders announced a transfer deal for New College students that would allow them to pay the same tuition.

  • "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," the announcement said.

Why it matters: Pursley's departure underscores how much the school takeover has upended the lives of students and faculty members, muddying New College's reputation as a top public liberal arts college.

  • Meanwhile, a push by the college to recruit student-athletes yielded a record-breaking incoming class but at an academic cost, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The average test scores and GPA were lower than the fall 2022 class.

Plus: New College professors have also shifted their plans, with Provost Brad Thiessen telling board members at a meeting last month that faculty turnover was "ridiculously high."

Catch up fast: The public honors college tucked on the coast of Sarasota has made national headlines since Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed the new trustees with the goal of transforming New College into a Hillsdale of the South, referring to the conservative Christian liberal arts college in Michigan.

By the numbers: As of Aug. 1, 86 of New College's roughly 700 students had applied to transfer to Hampshire, Melissa Mills-Dick, a spokesperson for Hampshire, told Axios. Two dozen students took the deal and another 17 were likely to enroll, she said. School leaders anticipate more transfers for the spring semester.

What they're saying: "It is more worth it for me to try to get a quality education at this point than to stay in the heat of battle," Pursley said. "I hope that New College comes back to the way it was, but I don't think that's going to happen any time soon."

  • Losing students like Pursley "is a huge loss for the state, frankly," said Miriam Wallace, Pursley's former faculty adviser who now works as a dean at the University of Illinois Springfield campus.
  • New College has "been a real magnet for creative, entrepreneurial students," she told Axios.
A person in a black-and-pink patterned jumpsuit standing on a bridge covered in ivy.
Basil Pursley during a tour of New College in 2019, when he was 15. Photo courtesy of Basil Pursley

The other side: "Students who have requested and been approved for a specific accommodation have received housing assignments accordingly," New College spokesperson Nathan March told Axios.

  • He added that hotels would be used to make up for a housing shortage due to "our record-breaking incoming class of more than 330 students."
  • He declined to say how many total students had transferred out of the college, whether to Hampshire or other schools.
  • Regarding the Herald-Tribune's reporting, March said that GPAs and test scores "ebb and flow with each incoming class, and this year's admissions averages are not indicative of a drop in admissions standards."

The bottom line: After eight months of chaos, Pursley is at peace with his decision, he said. So is Wallace, who told Axios that she also felt pressure to leave because of laws restricting what teachers and professors can say about race, gender and sexuality.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to show Miriam's last name is Wallace, not Warren.

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