Burlington College to Close Under Mountain Financial Pressure

(Photo: Taylor Dobbs, VPR)

(Photo: Taylor Dobbs, VPR)

A small private college in Vermont that was once led by the wife of Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is due to shut down later in the month as a result of “crushing debt” that happened during her presidency.

Burlington College, which enrolled a total of 224 students as of fall 2014, said it had been under financial pressure as a result of the purchase of 32 acres of lakefront property in 2010 from the Diocese of Burlington.  While the property has since been sold by the college in an effort to get control over its debt issues, the college was placed on probation in 2014 by its accrediting agency, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, and is now dealing with cash flow problems as a result of a loss of their credit line, writes Nick Anderson for The Washington Post.  Schools need to be accredited in order to receive federal financial aid funding.

Alexander Holt, a policy analyst at New America, said many smaller private colleges rely on tuition money and financial aid in order to remain open as a result of having minimal endowments.  Many of these schools create growth plans in an effort to bring in more students, but many times those plans do not work.  Holt went on to say that Burlington’s plan had been “reckless,” and that it focused more on the school’s reputation than it did on the future of its current students.

“These private colleges that don’t have a tremendous reputation but are going to charge high tuition in order to fulfill this grand ambition, we expect these things to happen,” Holt said.

The purchase was made during the presidency of Jane Sanders, wife of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.  When asked if Sanders was to blame for the current state of the school at a news conference on Monday, Burlington College President Carole Moore said she was unable to comment.

The Sanders campaign has not responded to requests made for comment.

The purchase was originally made in an effort to increase enrollment at the school by enticing prospective students as well as alumni donations, reports Zach Despart for The Burlington Free Press.

Robert Kelchen, a professor at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., said it is a common practice for schools to update school buildings or dorms and recreation centers in an attempt to attract new students. Kelchen studies higher education finance.

“Burlington operated for years with very little overhead and then they bought a campus essentially,” said Kelchen. “They took a big risk to try to increase enrollment and it did not pay off.”

Government data suggests the school was also having difficulties getting its students on good financial footing, with only 24% of first-time, full-time students graduating within six years.  In addition, those who received financial aid were found to earn an average of $28,900 within 10 years of completing their education, reports Jillian Berman for MarketWatch.

Students who are still enrolled at the school will be able to transfer to nearby schools to complete their programs.