Featured, Local News

‘This is my home’

Photo by Katy Savage

For transfer students Claire Sherman, Kaleigh Kennedy and Serena McKenzie this semester will be their last.

By Katy Savage

POULTNEY— Days after Green Mountain College students returned to campus from winter break, they were told this semester would be their last.

Green Mountain College told students and faculty Jan. 23 that the school was closing its doors following commencement in May.

“Financial challenges are impacting liberal arts colleges throughout the country and Green Mountain College is no exception,” President Robert Allen said in a statement. “These financial challenges, the product of major changes in demographics and costs, are the driving factors behind our decision to close at the end of this academic year.”

About 427 students and 39 staff members are scrambling for new schools and new careers.

The feel of the campus had shifted Thursday, students said.

Some students were outraged. Some were sad and others were in shock as their futures remain uncertain.

Students and parents said rumors about the college’s closure had circulated since October, but they had no inkling the college would close so soon.

“There was no outreach – there was no nothing to anybody,” said parent Denise Kamer.

The college seemed to continue normal operation. GMC accepted a handful of transfer students this semester.

“I traveled across the country from a community college in Portland, Oregon, to get the news after,” said Claire Sherman.

Sherman said she got a vague phone call about the financial meeting as she was traveling to Poultney, but she didn’t know what to expect.

“I just wish I’d have been warned a little bit sooner,” she said. “Now we’re all rushing to find a school.”

Sherman and other transfer students waited in the dining hall to eat dinner together Thursday.

“I just made friends. Now I have to go make new friends,” said Serena McKenzie, who had just transferred from the University of Tampa.

“I love everyone here,” McKenzie added. “It sucks. This is our first and last semester.”

Freshman who weren’t informed about the college’s financial issues also felt cheated.

“We didn’t even know there was a problem,” said freshman Jordan Britton from New Hampshire.

Green Mountain College issued a statement Wednesday, Jan. 23, explaining the college was in negotiations with financial partnerships a week before the closure was announced.

“The college was unable to find a financial solution, or secure a partnership that would enable the GMC Poultney campus to continue operations beyond the spring semester,” according to the statement. Senior students and alumni questioned what the closure meant for their degrees. They were sad their close-knit college wouldn’t be there anymore.

“I feel like this is my home,” said Rachel Dindy, a senior student from Massachusetts. “I really love it here. It’s part of my identity.  I have a profound sense of belonging here and I’m very sad it won’t be here anymore.”

The college attracted students from across the nation, intrigued by GMC’s unique degree programs and focus on sustainability.

“It’s pretty saddening,” said Donna Stanley, a 2005 graduate who moved from Pennsylvania to attend Green Mountain College. She now works at a ski shop in Killington.   

“It felt like you were more of a family rather than going to a college. It’s a really unique school,” she said.

GMC announced it was partnering with Prescott College in Arizona. Prescott  will house all the students’ academic records and offer teach-out agreements with eight other schools, including Paul Smith’s College in New York, Castleton State College, Sterling College, Marlborough College, Unity College in Maine, College of Atlantic in Maine, Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage and Chatham University in Pennsylvania.

Green Mountain College’s 18-year partnership with Killington Resort to offer a 3-year program in resort hospitality also ended with the college’s closure.   

“None of this is a huge surprise to me,” said Killington Resort President Mike Solimano, a former GMC board member. “We had a thought that this was a possibility.”

Solimano knew enrollment at GMC was declining. He is working to help establish a partnership with Castleton University to permanently transfer the Killington School of Resort Management Program to Castleton, pending approval from New England Commission of Higher Education.

About 25 students currently live on the Killington campus, which is privately owned by the Ramshead Trust.

The Killington campus, however,  is also  in the midst of a lawsuit over a $150,000 water system upgrade.

The lawsuit, filed by the owners of the Ramshead Trust, alleges GMC added new students to the campus without consent. The number of students using the water system at the campus exceeds the threshold allowed by the state.

Burlington Attorney Christopher Roy, who represents the owners of the trust, said he was shocked about the college’s closure.

“We had no advance this was coming down the pike,” he said.

Roy said the parties are planning to enter mediation in February.

Solimano said the resort was committed to doing what it took to keep the program running, including moving students to a different campus.

For now, Castleton University will allow any GMC student to complete his or her degrees through a teach-out agreement.

“It is our intention to help as many students as possible fulfill their goals and complete their degree requirements without leaving Vermont,” said Castleton University President Dr. Karen M. Scolforo in a statement.

Castleton will accept all students in good standing and provide a financial aid package equivalent to what they paid in 2018-19.

Students said GMC offers a unique experience and unique degree programs, like “adventure education” and “wilderness and outdoor therapy,” that can’t be found elsewhere.

Isabel Thomas, a student in the Renewable Energy and Ecological Design program, said she studies a mix of architecture and design with a focus on sustainability.

“For most places if you want to do that you have to go back for your masters,” Thomas said. “You’re able to get all that in a bachelor’s degree here – that’s really special.”

Some aren’t ready to give up hope that GMC will reopen.

Freshman Catherine Lang started a fundraiser through GoFundMe Wednesday.

“Today there is a dark cloud over Poultney, Vermont,” Lang wrote on the GoFundMe page. “Our hearts are heavy at the news that we will no longer receive the irreplaceable experience that Green Mountain has provided so many young people over the years.”

Lang, who is from New Hampshire, said she started the fundraiser for her friends who were “clearly upset.”

“I realize trying to raise this amount of money is, by all measures, unreasonable.  But why not try!” she wrote.

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