As the fall semester began at New College of Florida, a small public school known as proudly unconventional until Gov. Ron DeSantis set about overhauling it this year, new students were easy to spot.
Many were recruited athletes, clad in T-shirts branded with the school’s new mascot, a muscled, flexing banyan tree. They stood out from returning students, many of whom roamed the campus in bare feet or with vividly dyed hair.
“Will these people be OK with us being weird as we are?” said Emma Curtis, a 21-year-old fourth-year student, voicing a concern shared by others.
The influx of athletes is just one of the sweeping changes that have come to New College since Mr. DeSantis and his allies vowed in January to transform the liberal arts institution, known as Florida’s “public honors college,” into a bastion of conservatism. More than a third of last year’s faculty members — about three dozen — are gone. So are about 125 students who chose not to return.
In a school that last year had about 700 students total, the freshman class of 338 is the largest ever; it also has a higher proportion of Black, Hispanic and male students than previous ones did, according to the administration. More than 200 students have been moved from on-campus dorms to off-campus hotels to make room for the recruited athletes and other new students.
The pronounced change in climate has led to a flurry of legal challenges. Alumni, faculty and students have sued, claiming free-speech violations that they say amount to academic censorship. The U.S. Department of Education is investigating a complaint that New College, in its new iteration, discriminated based on disability. An alumna accused the new leadership in a separate federal complaint of discriminating against L.G.B.T.Q. students by creating a hostile environment that drove some of them out.
The board of trustees, controlled by DeSantis allies, and the interim president, Richard Corcoran, dismiss the critics as a disgruntled few and cast the overhaul as a success. State lawmakers sent about $50 million to the school this year, a big jump from recent years. New students were offered newly designated scholarships and laptops. Moldy dorms were shut down. And the school created an athletic department, with plans to field six teams.
“What was really missing more than anything else at New College was leadership,” Mr. Corcoran, a former Florida House speaker and state education commissioner, said in an interview. “We’ve been able to do something that wasn’t accomplished in 63 years at the college, and that was grow enrollment. We did it at a time of complete upheaval and negative publicity.”
Much of Mr. DeSantis’s criticism of New College before the overhaul centered on what he characterized as “woke indoctrination” on college campuses. One of the new leadership’s first acts was eliminating the college’s diversity office; soon after, the diversity chief and the academic librarian, both members of the L.G.B.T.Q. community, were fired.
The board of trustees’s faculty representative quit after five professors were denied tenure because of what Mr. Corcoran called a move toward “a more traditional liberal arts institution.” Some new administrators hired into top posts did not have a background in academia, but rather connections to Republican state politics.
“The board wasn’t looking for reasonable change at a reasonable pace,” said Matthew Lepinski, the computer science professor who resigned from the board and then from the school. “They were interested in making change so fast that they didn’t care what they broke.”
The reconfigured board voted to abolish New College’s gender studies program, which one trustee called “more of an ideological movement” than an academic discipline. The school’s only full-time gender studies professor quit, writing in his resignation letter that Florida was “the state where learning goes to die.”
Gone are gender-neutral bathrooms, hallway art that in some cases featured nudity and student murals that had been completed in February and were expected to remain for several years. Student orientation leaders had to remove Black Lives Matter and Pride pins from their polo shirts. A student government election this week pitted a returning student against a new student backed by a newly formed campus chapter of the conservative organization Turning Point USA.
Dan Duprez, a former New College admissions officer, said he was troubled by the tactics used to grow the incoming class, noting that the grade-point averages and standardized test scores of new students were lower than those of past freshman classes. He recalled a colleague showing him an admissions essay that was a screenshot of cellphone notes, “riddled with incorrect spelling and grammar, saying, basically, ‘I just want to play ball.’”
“That person went on to be accepted,” Mr. Duprez said.
Administrators say they had little time to recruit the large incoming class that they wanted. Many top athletes had already committed to other schools, and critics say New College recruited students heavily from Christian schools. Mr. DeSantis has said he wants New College to model itself after Hillsdale College, a private Christian institution in Michigan.
Mariano Jimenez Jr., the athletic director and baseball coach, who used to work at a private Christian high school, said the school brought in academic counselors to keep athletes on track, as other schools routinely do: “We’re going to show that these athletes are going to be held to a high standard.”
Several athletes declined to speak to a reporter. The college declined a request to make athletes available for interviews.
One who did agree to a brief interview, Tyrone Smith, a 20-year-old basketball player, said he transferred from the University of South Florida in part because of New College’s academics. “The professors know your name,” he said.
Friction over the athletes’ arrival grew after many of them were assigned to apartment-style dorms, displacing more senior students. Other dorms were deemed unsafe because of mold, which Mr. Corcoran said should have been addressed by earlier administrations. Many students ended up in three nearby hotels.
Atticus Dickson, a 19-year-old religious studies student assigned to live at a Hyatt Place, described the inconvenience of having to catch a shuttle or hitch a ride just to get to class: “My job is on campus, and I stay on campus late.”
There have been other sources of uncertainty. Annie Dong, a 21-year-old art and psychology student in her fourth year, said the culture no longer felt as positive and welcoming.
“The community has changed,” she said. “There is also anxiety just being on campus.”
Parents and students reported classes being canceled shortly before the start of the semester, a claim Mr. Corcoran denied despite the faculty upheaval. Visiting faculty have been hired for this school year.
“I was doing an internship at an organic chemistry lab,” said Olivia Pare, a 20-year-old biology student entering her third year, who transferred. “The professor I was doing that with was denied tenure, and that was the last straw for me.”
More than 30 students have transferred to Hampshire College, a private liberal arts school in Amherst, Mass., that offered to match New College students’ tuition.
One of them, Libby Harrity, 20, withdrew from New College as part of a deal for misdemeanor battery charges against her to be dropped. Christopher Rufo, a trustee appointed by Mr. DeSantis, had accused her of spitting at him during a campus protest in May. (Ms. Harrity denied his version of events.)
Ms. Harrity — who got a tattoo of New College’s quirky former mascot, a pair of empty brackets denoting a math concept known as the null set — said that she is grateful for Hampshire’s tuition match, though her housing and travel home will be more expensive.
“I’m hurt,” she said of her departure from New College. “They have come in and taken everything that made it good and charming and removed as much of it as possible.”
Ms. Curtis, an art and psychology student, stayed at New College, though she is considering dropping her psychology concentration. The dorm she expected to live in was closed, leaving her to scramble for alternative on-campus housing. She was one of six students whose murals — hers depicted sandhill cranes — were painted over without notice, which she said sent a painful message: “‘We don’t want your work here.’”
She let her pink hair dye fade and her mullet grow out before returning to school — for fear, she said, that administrators and new students would judge her. She is trying to get through her art coursework and graduate as soon as possible.
Video: Haley Compares Antisemitism on College Campuses to Racism
new video loaded: Haley Compares Antisemitism on College Campuses to Racism
Haley Compares Antisemitism on College Campuses to Racism
The former South Carolina governor said antisemitism is “just as awful” as racism.
If the K.K.K. were doing this, every college president would be up in arms. This is no different. You should treat it exactly the same. Antisemitism is just as awful as racism, and we’ve got to make sure they’re protected. And for everybody that’s protesting on these college campuses in favor of Hamas, let me remind you something. Hamas said death to Israel and death to America. They hate and would kill you, too.
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Gen Z Is Poised to Spend More on Debt Than Others. It Could Derail Retirement.
Young adults face mounting credit challenges
The Fair Isaac Corporation created the most commonly used credit scoring model in the country. The three-digit FICO score, which has a range from 300 at the low end to 850 at the high end, is a weighted composite of a borrower’s credit risk — that is, the likelihood that they will fail to pay back what they borrow. The scoring model includes five types of data: The most important is payment history, which amounts to more than one-third of the score, followed by the amounts owed, length of credit history, new credit and the mix of different types of credit.
While these conditions aren’t age-specific, Gen Z is at a distinct disadvantage because 15 percent of a credit score is derived from the length of a borrower’s credit history. The average credit score for adults 25 and younger is 679, compared with 714 for all Americans, according to the credit reporting bureau TransUnion. On a scale that ranges from 300 to 850, 679 is high enough to qualify someone for many loan types, including conventional mortgages, but it’s not good enough to get the best interest rates.
Young adults who are Black and Latino face even greater challenges. The Urban Institute, a think tank, found that young adults between ages 21 and 24 who live in communities that are predominantly Black have average credit scores of 597, which sharply limits their opportunities to borrow — and improve those scores.
Margaret Libby, the founder and chief executive of MyPath, a nonprofit promoting economic mobility, said that some common credit-building recommendations for young people, such as being added as an authorized user on a parent’s credit card, were less accessible for young adults of color as well as those in lower-income communities. “It’s an equity issue, it’s a real equity issue in this space,” she said.
For young adults with little credit history, other attributes of their credit score take on outsized importance. “This is one of the categories where what a young consumer can best do in this category is building their credit and building their credit history,” said Ethan Dornhelm, the vice president of scores and predictive analytics at FICO.
Sudden Closure of Art Institutes Leaves 1,700 Students Adrift
Hundreds of students and faculty members were left stunned on Friday by the news that the Art Institutes, a system of for-profit colleges, would close its eight remaining campuses across the United States by the end of this month.
The system had suffered from low enrollment since the coronavirus pandemic began. Previous challenges included a $95 million settlement after fraud allegations in 2015 and a loss of accreditation that led to the shuttering of nearly 20 other locations in 2018.
When Hannah Grabhorn, 21, a sophomore studying games, art and design at the Art Institute of Atlanta, received an email on Friday that said her school was closing, she looked for more answers online. But every page on the school’s website referred her back to the same notice. The email said that “the Art Institutes do not anticipate any further communication.”
Grabhorn said she and her classmates were informed of the closure one day after final exams for the school’s summer quarter.
“All of us were crying,” she said.
The Department of Education said 1,700 students would be affected by the decision. In addition to Atlanta, campuses are closing in Austin, Texas; Dallas; Houston; Miami; San Antonio; Tampa, Fla.; and Virginia Beach.
The Art Institutes did not respond to emails and phone requests for comment.
“There are students who thought they were pursuing an education who are now going to be left out in the cold,” said Deborah Obalil, executive director of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design, a nonprofit consortium.
Traditional models of arts education have experienced contractions, Obalil said. Some schools, such as the San Francisco Art Institute, are declaring bankruptcy, while others, like the Watkins College of Art in Nashville, are merging with larger institutions to save themselves.
“We are at an inflection point,” Obalil said. “Delivering an arts and design curriculum is an expensive operation.”
The Art Institutes were often marketed as cheaper options, with some students saying they were quoted about $90,000 for a full degree’s tuition. One year of tuition at a prestigious alternative like the Rhode Island School of Design is about $58,700.
Experts said that federal rules requiring educational institutions to provide students with a “teach-out” plan for completing their degrees after a closure might not apply to for-profit schools. The Education Department has proposed a rule change to include for-profit schools in the guidelines, but the policy would not go into effect until July 2024.
“We are committed to supporting students as they explore options to continue their education or apply for a closed school loan discharge,” the department said in a statement. “We are working to post information as soon as possible.”
Teachers at the Art Institutes were also surprised by the news.
Anne Perry, an instructor at the Art Institute of Dallas, posted on Facebook that she would “grieve over its fate,” calling the school “a creative, life-giving place to work.”
“I got the message right after I had met on Zoom with a student, and we had expressed looking forward to next quarter,” Perry wrote, adding, “Now it will be a different road, for many.”
Sara Perez Sanders enrolled her daughter, Justice, at the Art Institute of Virginia Beach after Justice earned a scholarship that paid for half of the tuition. She covered the rest with money from the G.I. Bill of Rights, which began offering expanded education benefits in 2009.
“I though it was a hoax,” she said of the school’s closure. “I told my daughter to call her adviser, but the phone lines were disconnected. She was in the middle of uploading her last assignments.”
The school network traces its history back to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, which was founded in 1921. A Pennsylvania company named Education Management Corporation acquired the college in 1970 before expanding its portfolio and adding courses such as culinary arts, fashion design, audio production and video games. By 2010, the company made $2.5 billion annually, with $1.8 billion coming from Education Department grants and student loans.
Five years later, Education Management Corporation settled claims with the Justice Department about illegal recruiting, consumer fraud and other claims.
Problems only grew after a faith-based nonprofit called Dream Center Education Holdings acquired the schools in 2017. After settling a class-action lawsuit that said that four Art Institutes were misleading students into believing they were accredited institutions, all that remained of the brand was a handful of campuses.
Grabhorn, the student at the Art Institute of Atlanta, said she was in a better position than those of her peers who needed only one more quarter of school before graduating. She has a couple of months before most schools begin their spring semesters to plan her next steps. Her teachers are also looking for new jobs.
“I immediately messaged my professor, who said he was really shocked,” she said. “He asked for a testimonial.”
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