By Elizabeth Hewitt and Anne Galloway, VTDigger.org
Burlington College officials announced Monday, May 16, that the school will close effective May 27 because of the “crushing weight of the debt” incurred with the purchase of a lakefront property on North Avenue. College trustees voted unanimously Friday — the day before commencement — to close the school.
At a news conference Monday, college officials said “heartbreaking” and lamented the loss of the model of education that the small institution offered through its 44 years. “It’s particularly difficult to see this come to an end when in fact this is the cutting edge of higher education,” said college President Carol Moore.
Financial difficulties have plagued the college for years. According to college officials, the institution had paid off the bulk of the $11 million owed for the purchase of the property it sits on from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington. But the college is still $3 million in debt.
The school received word mid-May that the New England Association of Schools and Colleges will not renew its accreditation, according to Moore. Schools that are not accredited are not eligible for federal financial aid for students.
The school’s declining enrollment was still a “major risk” to its long-term viability, according to the NEASC. Enrollment dropped from 186 full-time students in the fall of 2014 to 123 a year later. Burlington College had a plan to increase enrollment to 215 by the fall of 2018, and 165 students were expected to enroll next fall. Fifty-five students graduated this past weekend, the last graduating class. As part of an effort to boost enrollment, the college reduced tuition, but it was too little too late.
Burlington College has established agreements with several other institutions — including the Vermont State Colleges system, Marlboro College and Champlain College — to set up contingency plans for current students. It is also exploring options with Green Mountain College in Poultney. Some 70 students are part of the way through their academic programs; additionally, almost 30 staff and faculty members will lose their jobs.