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Tuesday, Feb 20, 2024

Southern Vermont College Falls to State’s Declining Enrollments

Within only two months of Green Mountain College’s announcement that it will close after this academic year, Southern Vermont College (SVC) has followed suit. Located in Bennington, VT, the private, liberal arts college announced on March 4 that it too would shut down this summer, to the shock and surprise of many of its students.

In his statement, SVC President David Evans said that the decision to close the college occurred after the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) voted to remove the college’s accreditation “based on institutional resources.” Evans specifically referenced financial problems due to “regional demographics” and “enrollment challenges.”

Evans stressed in his announcement to the SVC community that “NECHE’s concern was limited to SVC’s finances only. The quality of the education we offer, institutional integrity, the transferability of courses and the value of our degrees, are not in question.” SVC’s accreditation will last until Aug. 31, 2019, allowing for students who need the summer to complete graduation requirements to do so.

SVC’s current enrollment is around 330 students, a number that reached a peak of 500 in past years. Seventy of those students are eligible to graduate this year.  

The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA), a short twenty minute drive from SVC’s campus, has been announced as SVC’s preferred teach-out partner, an agreement that would allow current SVC students to finish their degrees at MCLA.

We selected MCLA primarily because we have great confidence in their faculty and staff to be supportive of our students and the challenges they are and will be facing, which has already been demonstrated by their outstanding response to our situation,” Evans told The Campus in an email. “They have had teams on campus almost every day since the closure announcement, working with students and our staff to provide advice and options for transferring.”

SVC is also working with Norwich and Castleton Universities to provide other transfer options for students who might not find equivalent degree programs at MCLA.

SVC’s closure will also greatly affect its 100 full-time and 30 part-time staff members.

“The staff and faculty have been distressed because they love our students and the work we do at SVC,” Evans told The Campus. “My sense is that their first impulse has been to protect the students, but of course they face employment issues and all kinds of other uncertainty as well, which is very stressful.”

When asked about the seemingly abrupt nature of the closure announcement, Evans responded, “Ultimately, I’m afraid, there’s simply no good way to do something like announce the closure of a college, because people invest very intense emotions in these institutions for all kinds of very good reasons, and those emotions make our current situation deeply painful for everyone.”

SVC began in 1926 as Saint Joseph College, first located in downtown Bennington. In 1974 the college was turned over to a board of independent trustees and moved to its current spot on the Everett Estate, according to the school’s website.

The closures of Green Mountain College and Southern VT College reflect a greater pattern cropping up across both Vermont and the nation as a result of declining enrollments. Rural states like Vermont are struggling to retain a consistent pool of college-age applicants, causing significant financial problems for their small, private colleges.

In addition to GMC and SVC, Goddard College in Plainfield, VT, is on probation with NECHE, and the College of St. Joseph in Rutland, VT, recently suspended its undergraduate program and faces a removal of its accreditation for both its graduate and undergraduate programs.

“More than half of us are facing existential threats,” Evans told The Campus, speaking to the number of VT colleges in danger of closing. “Vermont has a tremendous problem with demographics already, which is a major cause of the challenges our colleges are facing, but at the same time the colleges’ problems are going to make the demographic issues even worse. From an economic and social standpoint, there is nothing good about what is happening to private colleges in Vermont.”