BOSTON (AP) — A small liberal arts college in Massachusetts is rolling out a welcome mat for students from a Florida school that was captured by conservatives elected by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis.

Hampshire College in Amherst announced this month that any students in good standing from New Florida College can transfer there and with student aid pay the same tuition they pay in Florida. Each of the two institutions is renowned for its progressive, freedom-loving students, lack of traditional grades and opportunities for students to design their own course of study.

Hampshire president Edward Wingenbach said he wanted to show “solidarity” with New College students.

“It’s critical that colleges and universities do something to try to counter what is essentially an ongoing, expanding, and increasingly aggressive effort to curtail free inquiry in higher education,” he said. “We have to see it for what it is and try to do everything within our resources and capabilities to counter it. One of the things Hampshire can do is offer New College students a place to escape that.”

New College is a public school of less than 1,000 students located along Sarasota Bay that has been known as a haven for marginalized students, particularly from the LGBTQ community. DeSantis recently uploaded the board of trustees with their selections as part of an effort to shift Florida’s state-funded institutions of higher learning toward a more conservative side.

Hampshire spokeswoman Jennifer Crisler said the school received 15 emails and four voicemails from New College students with questions about the related training program. So far, they have had one transfer student before their respective study program. After that, four more people applied.

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

A Hampshire college is working to recover from a slump in enrollments that saw it on the brink of closure in 2019. As of 2023, the campus had fewer than 500 students, down from 1,500 a few years ago. It is one of many small colleges in Massachusetts that have struggled to attract students in recent years, leading some to close permanently.

Faced with financial difficulties, the college said it is seeking a merger in 2019 and has decided not to admit a full class for next year. The plan sparked outrage from faculty and alumni, leading to the resignation of the president and the launch of a fundraising campaign to secure the school’s future.

Hampshire says $39 million has been raised since then, with a 75% increase in freshman enrollment last year.

Founded in 1970, the school has a more flexible academic philosophy than other colleges. Students develop their own courses of study, often combining several different academic areas. Instead of grades, students receive “narrative grades” on papers and projects.


AP education writer Colin Binkley contributed to this report.

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