Burlington College Announces Closure
A small college in Burlington will close. The announcement Monday comes after the school struggled for years to repay debt incurred after it bought land, lost its line of credit and faced losing accreditation.
Burlington College was founded in 1972 as an alternative to standardized academia. Focused on experiential learning, it has been recognized for its high level of internships and individualized learning.
Last Friday the college’s Board of Trustees voted to end all academic programs and close the college effective May 27th. President Carole Moore and Dean of Operations and Advancement Coralee Holm explained on Monday that they faced not only insurmountable debt, but a loss of accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. Holm says it is being pulled as of January 2017. “In the summer of 2014 the administration went in front of NEASC and gave the information about why we should not be placed on probation and they were looking solely at finances. The commission at the time said we did not meet the standard and put us on probation for two years. Since then we have worked hard to decrease the amount of debt. It was over $11 million dollars. We now owe about $2.2 million dollars. They have decided to lift our accreditation based on the financial standard.”
The college’s lender also informed it that its line of credit would not be renewed. The credit is crucial to maintain cash flow between semesters.
Vermont Digger reporter Elizabeth Hewitt says the college has struggled with enrollment over the past few years. “That has been a challenge for them in terms of keeping money coming in. So they were finding that they were having money come in at the beginning of the semester but were really struggling financially in the off season, in the in-between and so they were relying on a line of credit. And that line of credit ultimately was pulled by People’s Bank last month and in light of that the board decided that they didn't have the financial security to carry on.”
Burlington College’s fiscal problems can be tracked to a land purchase made in 2011. In an effort to boost enrollment and expand the college, then-President Jane Sanders, wife of then-Congressman and now presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, championed acquisition of 32 acres of land from the Diocese of Burlington. Vermont Digger Burlington reporter Morgan True calls the $10 million purchase the catalyst for all the problems the college has since encountered. “The loan was originally secured using pledged donations. So Jane Sanders as president told People’s United Bank that the college had $2.6 million in pledged donations. The college however received only $676,000 in actual donations from 2010 to 2014 according to figures provided by the college. That’s far less than the $5 million Sanders listed as likely pledges and less than a third of the $2.14 million Sanders had promised the bank that the college would collect in cash during a four year period.”
University of Vermont Professor of Economics Art Woolf believes saving Burlington College was virtually impossible because its fiscal health had been tenuous regardless of the property purchase. “The purchase probably shouldn’t have been done. Kind of in hindsight Jane Sanders should have recognized that the resources of the college really couldn't support that kind of major debt. But you know small colleges in the United States have a real hard time anyway and Burlington College is a very tiny college. We've seen other colleges in the Burlington area go out of business. Trinity College in Burlington went out of business about, oh, maybe twenty years ago. That was larger than Burlington College. And there's colleges all over the country that are encountering very significant financial problems and this is just another one of those cases.”
The 70 undergraduates remaining at Burlington College will be able to transfer to other Vermont colleges.
Audio from the Burlington College press conference is courtesy of Vermont Digger.