Bad News in Threes

Green Mountain College, Poultney VT announced its closure on January 23rd

Southern Vermont College, Bennington VT announced its closure on March 4th

The College of St. Joseph, Rutland VT announced its closure today, March 22nd

In total, this doesn’t account for a lot of displaced students: 1,066 undergrads and 353 master’s students across all three schools. But those fourteen hundred students are only a part of the trauma. Those colleges also shed 75 permanent faculty, who are highly unlikely to land jobs at another school now that they’ve lost all those years on low-ranked campuses. They’ve shed over a hundred part-time faculty, who have almost no local opportunities to sell their course-by-course services elsewhere. They’ve shed another 250 or so other staff, ranging from financial aid to housekeeping to grounds maintenance to three college presidents, all of whom are looking for work in a pretty dubious regional economy.

We’ll have three defunct campuses, 117 acres and 371 acres and 155 acres. Three gyms and health centers. Ten dormitories. Fifteen or so academic buildings, five or six office buildings. Downtown Rutland and downtown Poultney and downtown Bennington are already pretty hollow, empty storefronts scattered throughout town, so the local demand for real estate is soft, and this is pretty specialized real estate.

Vermont as a whole is soft. The population has declined a tiny bit over the past decade, and the region is suffering all of the travails that rural America knows too well. Agricultural uncertainty, manufacturing loss, drug addiction, the smart kids leaving and the other kids not bothering with college at all. The loss of these three schools in such short order feels a little bit like the state just giving up on its future.

The state colleges are suffering, too. Castleton University is down about 10% in students from its peak a few years back, Northern Vermont University down 23%, Community College of Vermont down 20%. The flagship, The University of Vermont, is stable in undergraduate enrollment at about 10,000, but only a quarter of its students are Vermonters. The number of Vermont high school graduates at UVM reached its peak in 1972, at 4,204; now it’s down to 2,862.

A friend who grew up in the rural Midwest said that his experience of different small towns in his region was that the presence of a college made all the difference in the world—the difference between lively and depressing, the difference between hanging on and giving in. And we’re letting ours go. We’ll pay for that, in large ways and small.