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Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Florida Polytechnic’s plan: Free tuition for incoming freshmen

Members of the foundation backing the new Florida Polytechnic University have given themselves a significant challenge: raise $8 million to $9 million in scholarship money in less than a year to allow its inaugural class to attend at virtually no cost.

The foundation decided one way to recruit students to Poly in fall 2014 would be to provide full scholarships to students willing to take the plunge and attend a school with no track record, no accreditation and a faculty and staff currently under assembly. Poly will be competing for the best and the brightest in science, technology, engineering and math – known as the STEM fields – with state and national universities with significant advantages in history and reputation.

“This is an important recruiting tool for us,” said Ava Parker, Poly’s chief operating officer. She said the scholarships “will help us attract the high-caliber students who we know will be successful in our rigorous academic programs.”

The Poly board of trustees approved the scholarship program Monday after a foundation retreat last week.

According to the plan, incoming full-time undergraduates will receive $5,000 scholarships for their first three years and $3,200 for the fourth year. Poly tuition and fees is estimated at $5,029 for the 2014-15 academic year.

Scholarships for graduate students taking 24 credit hours per academic year will total $9,300 a year for two years. Graduate tuition and fees at Poly are estimated at $11,462.

“We think that the uniqueness of our program, the fact that it will be cutting-edge, focusing on advanced technology, with small classrooms and the ability to interact with professors. ... We think those are the kinds of experiences that will be unique to our university and that will encourage students to come,” Parker said.

The foundation also will develop a more comprehensive, multiyear fundraising plan to assist the university in the future. Raising the $8 million to $9 million for the kickoff scholarships in such a short time may seem daunting, but it likely will help that the Poly foundation features some of the biggest names of the social and financial circles of central Florida.

The foundation’s chairwoman, Cindy Alexander, is the wife of JD Alexander of Lake Wales, a former state Senate appropriations chairman and chief executive of agribusiness giant Alico Inc. Also on the board is Vic Story of the Story Cos. citrus operation; R. Mark Bostick, head of Comcar Industries and part of the original ownership group of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, serves on the board of trustees.

“Funding student scholarships and university advancement is a priority for the foundation board,” Cindy Alexander said in a statement. “Though the goal for the comprehensive campaign has not yet been determined, the foundation leadership is committed to its success.”

Florida Polytechnic became the state’s 12th public university in 2012, when JD Alexander muscled a bill through the Florida Legislature without a single committee hearing. Poly had been on a gradual path to split off from the University of South Florida, but Alexander’s bill made the move immediate.

Alexander left the Senate after that session due to term limits.

Officials insisted the independent university would cost no more to operate than the school did as a University of South Florida affiliate. But Poly found itself in hot water earlier this year when university trustees recommended asking the Legislature for a $25 million allocation to get the school up and running; after an outcry, the trustees backpedaled and said the money wouldn’t be needed.

The university’s signature building, the $134 million Innovation, Science and Technology building off Interstate 4 and the east end of the Polk Parkway, is nearing completion. The school has hired four faculty members, on its way to a full complement of 45 to 50 faculty members by next fall.

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