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Ron DeSantis tried to make a Florida college conservative. Now the students are fleeing.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) Photo: Shutterstock

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis‘s (R) attempt to make the New College of Florida a rightwing indoctrination institution appears to be failing as the school has reported 27% of its student body has dropped out.

The college reported that it doubled its normal rate of loss of first-year students between fall semesters this year, giving it the worst student retention rate in the public college’s history at just 64.9%, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

The increase in the departure rate coincides with a massive overhaul of the college under the DeSantis administration. Earlier this year, DeSantis appointed six new members to the New College’s board of trustees who were loyal to him and his ideology – including far-right and anti-LGBTQ+ activist Christopher Rufo – who then proceeded to remove the college’s president and appoint a DeSantis administration official in his place.

DeSantis planned to turn New College into the “Hillsdale of the South,” a reference to the private and infamously conservative Christian college in Michigan. Rufo said earlier this year that the goal of what has been described as a “hostile takeover of a liberal college” was to “provide an alternative for conservative families in the state of Florida to say there is a public university that reflects your values.”

“If we can take this high-risk, high-reward gambit and turn it into a victory, we’re going to see conservative state legislators starting to reconquer public institutions all over the United States,” Rufo continued.

Apparently, though, students aren’t going along with it. New College interim Provost Brad Thiessen wrote in a report sent to faculty this week that around 186 of the school’s 691 students left the college, which is 27%. For comparison, 13% and 14% of students left in the previous two years. This comes as New College nearly doubled its enrollment of students this semester, which came at the cost of a decrease in the grade-point averages and test scores for new students.

This isn’t the first report of people fleeing the school this year. Over the summer, Thiessen reported that 36 faculty members left the college in the previous year. The college only has 100 full-time faculty members. This left some students wondering if they could finish their degrees on time.

“Either I don’t graduate on time or I’d have to abandon my major,” third-year student Alaska Miller said at the time, referring to how there was only one faculty member left in the school’s neuroscience department and no courses offered this fall.

During his time in office, DeSantis has waged war on public education, most notably through his “Don’t Say Gay” law and his vendetta against the teaching of racial and LGBTQ+ issues in schools.

In May, he signed a law forbidding colleges and universities from spending state or federal funding on programs that promote political or social activism or “diversity, equity, and inclusivity” (DEI). DeSantis said such DEI programs often actually stand for “discrimination, exclusion, and indoctrination.”

In 2022, DeSantis signed the so-called “Stop WOKE Act,” which forbids schools and businesses from offering educational programs on racism and gender-based discrimination. The law is currently on hold as a court considers its impact on constitutionally protected rights to free speech.

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