Southern Vermont College will be closing its doors at the end of the current semester.
According to college president David Evans, the SVC board of trustees took things into their own hands the morning after a Feb. 28th meeting with the New England Commission of Higher Education. At the meeting, the Bennington, Vermont college of around 400 students was forced to defend its accreditation amidst declining enrollment and strained finances.
“We’ve been working with enrollment management consultants and our vice president for enrollment management went to them and said so, what is the impact of this, what is the impact of the show-cause announcement, what would the impact be if we were placed on probation, and even the impact if we had been placed on probation would have been to reduce our enrollment by under an absolute best case scenario about 50 or 60 students and under worst case scenario something like a hundred, and there would simply be no way to make ends meet under those circumstances,” the college president told WAMC.
The next morning – March 1st – Evans says the board voted to close the school at the end of the current semester. The next day, he received verbal confirmation from the New England Commission of Higher Education that the school had failed to preserve its accreditation.
“We will proceed to graduation this spring, and we certainly hope that that will all go pretty much as planned in a regular year," said Evans. "One of the things that’s happening with accreditation going through August 31st is we very commonly have quite a few students who arrive at what would technically be their senior year but still need a class or two or three or maybe an internship or some kind of clinical experience or something like that to complete their requirements, so what we’re really hoping we can do – and we’re working on plans to make this happen but they’re not finished yet – is to create opportunities for students who are right up next to the finish line to finish before the end of the summer so they can still graduate from SVC with an accredited bachelor’s degree.”
Evans says students were informed Monday morning.
“We had a meeting of students on campus at 10 o’clock, and judging from how many there were I’m going to guess about half of our students were there physically at that time,” he told WAMC.
The school is reaching out to its teach-out partners to help current students continue their education – primarily Massachusetts College Of Liberal Arts in North Adams.
“We’ve talked about how we can knit their academic programs with ours," said MCLA President Dr. Jamie Birge. "There are a number of their majors that we offer, and so there will be a very logical connection between those majors.”
Birge confirmed to WAMC that meetings had been arranged with SVC leadership.
“We’ve talked about how we can have the students from SVC who have satisfied their core curriculum still enroll here and not have to repeat the course, so we think we have pretty good confidence that we’ll be able to serve those students and help them progress to graduation,” said the MCLA president.
Birge says for the past decade, higher education leaders have predicted the current disruption – but said that MCLA is capable of weathering the storm.
“The small private institutions that have small endowments are the most likely instutions to struggle," said Birge. "We’ve seen that around the region, certainly.”
Evans told WAMC that SVC will be closing with an existing debt of around $6 million dollars.
“The campus is mortgaged, the debt is secured by the campus, and so we’ll work with banks and probably some outside agency of some kind – property firm or realtor or something like that who will help us work through that,” he said.
The campus – the 371-acre former Edward Everett Estate – is protected by a number of state and federal restrictions as a historical site.
Evans says that he sees SVC’s closure as part of a rising trend of small liberal arts colleges facing similar challenges, “especially that colleges that serve a lot of first-generation students and a lot of lower-income students are the ones that are in trouble here.”