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Florida wants its own version of a small conservative college in Michigan

A blue New College flag
A school flag waves in the wind on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, at New College of Florida in Sarasota, where Gov. Ron DeSantis has appointed six conservatives to the board of trustees. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]

When Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed six conservative members to the New College of Florida board of trustees on Jan. 6, top state officials expressed a desire to turn the Sarasota school into “a Hillsdale of the South.” It’s a reference to Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian school in southern Michigan known for its increasing ties to DeSantis’ education initiatives.

Here is a look at both institutions:

New College of Florida

Location: Sarasota

Enrollment: 660 (Fall 2021)

Cost of attendance: $21,677 (Florida residents 2022-23)

Leadership: President Patricia Okker, the school’s first female president, and a 13-member board of trustees.

Student body: 67% female, 63% white. Described as largely progressive or liberal in student surveys.

Ranking: No. 76 among national liberal arts colleges and No. 5 among public liberal arts colleges, according to U.S. News & World Report.


• Founded in 1960 as a private college.

• Joined the State University System in 1975 as part of the University of South Florida.

• In 2001, the Legislature designated New College as an independent university to be known as the “honors college for the state of Florida.”

• Since 2013, the college has added a special program to link students to the work world, a marine biology research vessel, a “food forest carbon farm” with 50 species of plants, a master’s degree in data sciences, and a $10 million natural sciences complex.

Quirky fact: When the campus was dedicated in 1962, soils from Harvard University and New College were mixed “as a symbol of the shared lofty ideals of the two institutions.”

RELATED: With New College gambit, DeSantis aims to ‘recapture higher education’

Hillsdale College

Location: Hillsdale, Mich.

Enrollment: 1,602

Cost of attendance: $43,402 (2022-23)

Leadership: President Larry P. Arnn and a 35-member board of trustees.

Student body: 51% male. (The college does not break down its student body by race and ethnicity, a result of its long-time “policy of non-discrimination.”)

Ranking: No. 48 among national liberal arts colleges by U.S. News & World Report.


• Founded in 1844 by Freewill Baptists as Michigan Central College. Later changed its name after moving to Hillsdale, Mich.

• The school says it was the first American college with a charter prohibiting discrimination based on race, religion or sex, and that it “became an early force for the abolition of slavery.”

• Became known in the 1970s for defying the federal government’s requirement that it count students by race. Hillsdale later rejected all federal funding and replaced it with private donations.

• Remains a non-denominational conservative Christian college offering what it calls a “classical liberal arts” education.

Quirky fact: The chairperson of Hillsdale’s board of trustees is Pat Sajak, the 76-year-old host of television’s “Wheel of Fortune.”

Sources: College websites; State University System of Florida; U.S. News & World Report; Niche.com.

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