June 2018

OpEd

Vive la Différence

By Donal O’Shea, President of New College of Florida

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in SRQ Magazine June 9.

Last January, The Wall Street Journal published an article by a long-time frequent visitor to Sarasota that extolled the charms of our little corner of the world. The author, Alexander Lobrano, talks about the cheese shop downtown (due to move soon to the Rosemary district), the Amish doughnut truck, our newly opened chocolate shop, and the wonderful Bookstore 1. He approvingly mentions the beaches, our neighborhoods, the Ringling Museum of Art, and singles out several restaurants.

He recounts conversations he has had with others on the evolution of the region and favorably compares Sarasota to Cambridge, Massachusetts. And, then he adds, parenthetically, that Sarasota lacks a Harvard.

This easy truth masks the fact that Sarasota/Bradenton and Cambridge feel similar precisely because both are college towns. We do not have a large, venerable research university like Harvard or MIT, but we have a group, called the Cross College Alliance (CCA), of five extraordinary younger institutions that work together, though they could hardly be more different.

In addition to FSU—Ringling, which is the arts campus of Florida State University, the CCA has a fine regional comprehensive university (University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee), a nationally ranked liberal arts college (New College of Florida), a nationally ranked arts and technical college (Ringling College of Art & Design), and an excellent former community college (State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota).

Full-time students at any one of the institutions can take classes at any other for credit at their home institution with no additional tuition. The differences between the institutions offer this area’s students, faculty and residents opportunities that they would not have at a single institution.

The recently-minted articulation agreement between State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota and New College of Florida illustrates the benefits that difference brings. All students at New College attend full-time; many at SCF attend part-time. New College is residential (almost all students live on campus); SCF is not. Admission to New College is highly selective; admission to SCF is open to all students who have successfully completed high school. All New College classes are face-to-face; many SCF courses are online. Common sense would suggest that these differences would preclude collaboration.

Nonetheless, the new agreement guarantees admission to New College to any SCF student who completes their AA (Associate Degree in Art) at SCF within two years with a 3.0 GPA.

What makes this work is that each institution values high-quality teaching and learning, and each advises students to take rigorous humanities and science courses in their first two years. This makes it easy for the colleges to identify a slate of prerequisite courses for the guaranteed admission programs at New College.

It also shows the value of the differences between CCA institutions means. Students who would not have considered New College after high school, or who would not have been admitted due to limited space or because they did not hit their stride until later, now have an alternate pathway to our four-year degree. And the collaboration does not end here. For example, under the terms of the broad CCA agreement, New College students interested in attending medical school can take a human anatomy course at SCF.

Now imagine how these possibilities multiply when one considers collaborations among all pairs, all triples, and all groups of institutions in the CCA. The independence of these institutions and the differences between them provide strengths that a single institution, or two similar institutions, cannot match. And these strengths will serve our community very well over the next couple of decades in this new century.

In the meantime, the 20,000 students and faculty at these institutions will frequent the cheese shop, the bookstore, the restaurants and the bars, and spawn new business and collaborations that will shape our regional economy, as the students in Cambridge have done for more than four centuries. Vive la difference.

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