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Southern Vermont College Students Struggle With Looming Closure

Three people sit behind a table on a stage in a wood panelled room flanked by the US and SVC flags
Josh Landes
SVC student government members Aliesha Thomas, Allyson McNamee, and Vanessa Kendall.

Students from Southern Vermont College are speaking out about the sudden closure of the college.

At a press conference on the Bennington, Vermont campus Wednesday, SVC students laughed and cried while reflecting on Monday’s announcement that the college would close.

“Almost every student was piled in this small room, which was pretty fun to see, and President Evans had delivered the news to us. It was definitely an emotional time when he presented the news to us. President Evans himself got emotional, if you don’t mind me saying that.”

Sitting behind a table in the very room where she learned the news, student government president Allyson McNamee addressed reporters, flanked by fellow student government members Aliesha Thomas and Vanessa Kendall.

“I mean the students – and you guys can back me up with this as well – are upset.”

“We’re devastated.”

“This has been our home.”

The private college was facing declining enrollment and mounting debt. A day after SVC appeared before the New England Commission of Higher Education to defend its accreditation on February 28th, its board of trustees voted to preemptively close the school rather than face probation. A day later, President David Evans says he received verbal confirmation from the commission that the school had failed to maintain its accreditation.

Thomas described the board’s action as “immoral” and “irrational,” suggesting it was disconnected from the impact of its decision on students and college employees alike.

“They did not give enough credit to the faculty as well, because they have done the best job with us. They have been coping themselves, because they also have families, they also have bills to pay. They have kids, they have children, and at the end of the day it was very immoral, their decision that happened really fast. And now we’re just trying to stick together and cope with it.”

SVC’s closure is part of a trend in New England. Newbury College in Brookline, Massachusetts was placed on probation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges in 2018, and similarly has announced plans to close after its spring 2019 semester.

“I think that, personally, that the board that does these accreditation just looks stupid right now and is trying to make themselves look better," said McNamee. "Which kind of sucks for the people that are put in this situation – and that they’re not really paying attention to the lives that they’re destroying.”

Kendall said the sense of attention and support she got at the college of around 400 students was irreplaceable. 

“If all these small schools are wiped out, where are students that come from low income families going to go?" she asked. "We come to these schools for a reason. And also, students who have documented learning differences, where are they going to go? We have so much better support from faculty and staff at these smaller colleges, and you go to a large school with 200 students in your class – you’re screwed, you know?”

McNamee said the administration, faculty, and staff have worked tirelessly to help students continue their education– a path that will lead some to the Berkshires.

“MCLA has been on campus to help get students transferred into their program as soon as possible," she said. "Dan, I don’t know if you mind me sharing the number – we have over 30 students who have already been accepted, and we just got the news on Monday.”

For Thomas, SVC’s fate is a macabre echo of her experience at Saint Joseph’s College, a private college of around 350 students in Rutland that lost its accreditation and faced closure in 2018.

“At the end of the day, we’re all here to accomplish a goal," she said. "I’m first generation, so my goal is to finish college – and I’m going to get there. So if I have to go through this four times, or five times, or six times, bring it at me – I’m going to get there. I’m going to get there.”

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