Massachusetts College offers refuge to students at the Florida school affected by conservative politics


Students at New College of Florida have felt threatened by a series of actions by Gov. Ron Desantis. Now Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., is allowing students to transfer.

Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., announced in March 2023 that all students at New College of Florida, a Florida school under attack by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, could transfer there and pay the same amounts they are currently paying pay tuition fees. The two academic institutions are both known for their progressive students and lack of grades. AP Photo/Chris O’Meara, file

BOSTON (AP) — A small liberal arts college in Massachusetts unrolls the welcome mat for students at a Florida school, which it was adopted by the Conservatives selected by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis.

Hampshire College in Amherst announced this month that all students in good standing are dropping out New College of Florida go there and use the student grant to pay the same amount of tuition that they pay in Florida. The two academic institutions are each known for progressive, free-spirited students, lack of traditional grades, and opportunities for students to shape their own studies.

Hampshire President Edward Wingenbach said they wanted to show “solidarity” with the students at New College.

“It’s incredibly important that colleges and universities do something to try to oppose what is basically an ongoing, expanding and increasingly aggressive effort to restrict free inquiry in higher education,” he said. “We have to see this for what it is and try to do that within our resources and capacities to push that back. One of the things Hampshire can do is give New College students a place to get away from it all.”

New College is a public school with fewer than 1,000 students on Sarasota Bay known as a sanctuary for marginalized students, particularly from the LGBTQ community. DeSantis recently burdened the Board of Trustees with his decisions as part of an effort to steer Florida’s state-funded colleges in a more conservative direction.

A Hampshire spokeswoman, Jennifer Chrisler, said the school received 15 emails and four voicemails from New College students inquiring about their matching degree program. Previously, they had a student transfer before the appropriate study program. Four more have since applied.

A spokesman for the Florida Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment.

Hampshire College is working to recover from an enrollment slide that left it on the verge of closure in 2019. In 2023, the campus had fewer than 500 students, up from 1,500 a few years ago. It is among many small Massachusetts colleges that have struggled to attract students in recent years, forcing some to close their doors forever.

Faced with the financial strain, the college said it was targeting a merger in 2019 and decided not to allow a full class for the next year. The plan drew fire from faculty and alumni, leading to the president’s exit and the launch of a fundraising campaign to secure the school’s future.

Hampshire says it has raised $39 million since then, with freshman intake up 75% over the past year.

Established in 1970, the school has a more flexible academic philosophy than other colleges. The students design their courses themselves and often combine several different fields of study. Instead of grades, students receive “narrative evaluations” of work and projects.

AP Education writer Collin Binkley contributed to this report.

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