Dropout rates are up and student retention is down at New College of Florida amid a conservative overhaul driven by Governor Ron DeSantis, who tasked a swath of new trustees appointed in January with remaking the state’s only public liberal arts institution.
Between fall 2022 and fall 2023, the college lost 27 percent of its student body—or about 186 students—according to a letter sent from NCF’s interim provost to faculty members and obtained by The Sarasota Herald-Tribune. That figure compares to 13 percent and 14 percent drops in the prior two years, the letter said.
The newspaper also reported that NCF experienced the lowest retention rate in its history: from fall 2022 to fall 2023, just 64.9 percent of students returned. During that period, the board removed NCF’s president and installed as president a former GOP lawmaker and DeSantis ally, among other major changes.
Despite those issues, the newspaper reported that NCF had a record incoming class this year—in part due to the addition of several new athletics programs.
NCF’s dropout and retention issues have emerged alongside changes in hiring practices, including the addition of multiple staff members with no higher ed experience in key areas such as student affairs and an admissions director who has never worked in college admissions.
Additionally, New College has experienced issues with high faculty turnover since January.
College spokesperson Nathan March told Inside Higher Ed by email that the drop was expected and a sign that “many interventions were needed at New College.” March also pointed to success in new enrollments at New College this academic year.
“As we look to our growth and our future, we are intently focused on supporting the 733 students who are here today. The real story is despite the difficult circumstances New College found itself in, overall enrollment increased by more than 40 students and we achieved record enrollment for first-time students—breaking past 300 new students for the first time in the school’s 63-year history. New College will be the best liberal arts school in the country,” March wrote in an email.
He did not address questions about hiring practices for college personnel.