BOSTON - A small liberal arts college in Massachusetts is rolling out the welcome mat for students from a Florida school that has been taken over by conservatives picked by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Hampshire College in Amherst this month announced that any students in good standing from New College of Florida can transfer there and, with the help of student aid, pay the same amount in tuition they are paying in Florida. The two academic institutions each are known for progressive, free-spirited students, a lack of traditional grades, and opportunities for students to design their own course of study.
Hampshire President Edward Wingenbach said it wanted to show "solidarity" with New College students.
"It's incredibly important that colleges and universities do something to try to resist what is essentially an ongoing, expanding and increasingly aggressive effort to limit free inquiry in higher education," he said. "We have to see that for what it is and try and do what's within our resources and capacities to push back on that. One of the things Hampshire can do is offer students at New College a place to go to escape that."
New College is a state school of fewer than 1,000 students nestled along Sarasota Bay that has been known as a haven for marginalized students, especially from the LGBTQ community. DeSantis recently loaded the board of trustees with his choices as part of an effort to shift Florida's state-funded institutions of higher learning in a more conservative direction.
A spokesperson for Hampshire, Jennifer Chrisler, said the school had received 15 emails and four voicemails from New College students inquiring about its matching tuition program. So far, they have had one student transfer in advance of the matching tuition program. Four others have since applied.
A spokesman for the Florida Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment.
Hampshire College is working to bounce back from an enrollment slide that left it on the verge of closure in 2019. As of 2023, the campus had fewer than 500 students, down from 1,500 several years ago. It's among Massachusetts' many small colleges that have struggled to attract students in recent years, forcing several to close their doors for good.
Facing financial strain, the college said it was seeking a merger in 2019 and decided not to admit a full class for the next year. The plan drew fire from faculty and alumni, leading to the exit of the president and the launch of a fundraising campaign to secure the school's future.
Hampshire says it has raised $39 million since then, with a 75% increase in the number of first-year students last year.
Founded in 1970, the school has a more flexible academic philosophy than other colleges. Students design their own courses of study, often combining several different academic fields. Instead of grades, students get "narrative evaluations" on papers and projects.
AP education writer Collin Binkley contributed to this report.