The board of trustees made the decision Friday, according to a press release issued Monday morning.
The release began by noting: “In recent years, Burlington College has struggled under the crushing weight of the debt incurred by the purchase of the archdiocese property on North Avenue.”
That $10 million purchase was made in 2010 at the direction of the college’s then-president, Jane O’Meara Sanders, wife of presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Current interim president Carol Moore declined to comment at a press conference Monday afternoon when reporters asked whether Jane Sanders was responsible for the school’s downfall.
Carol Moore, interim president of Burlington College, speaks to reporters Monday as Coralee Holm, dean of operations and advancement, looks on.
Moore did tell reporters that the college had recently been regaining its financial footing. It reduced its debt load from $11 million to $2.2 million by selling much of its property, and cut operating costs by 80 percent, she said.
During a separate interview, the college’s board chair, Yves Bradley, echoed that assessment. But, he said, the school’s financial situation became untenable in April when its lender, People’s United Bank, decided not to renew its $1 million line of credit.
“I think it’s a tremendous loss to the community and I think a lot of people worked extraordinarily hard to try to keep the institution afloat,” Bradley said. The school was founded in 1972.
The New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which accredits schools, put Burlington College on probation almost two years ago because of its tenuous financial position. NEASC held a hearing in April, and recently informed the trustees that it planned to revoke the college’s accreditation next January.
“They ran out of time and money basically,” said Barbara Brittingham, president of NEASC’s Commission on Institutions of Higher Education. She explained that NEASC is required to make a decision after two years of probation.
At the press conference, Moore said that approximately 70 students are currently enrolled at the college, and another 30 would-be first-year students had sent in their deposits for the coming fall. Those students will be able to transfer to a number of other schools, including Marlboro College, Champlain College and the Vermont State Colleges, and possibly Green Mountain College to complete their degrees, according to Moore.
Burlington College has just fewer than 30 faculty and staff. They will receive their final paychecks on Friday. Moore said the Department of Labor will send representatives to the school Tuesday to help people sign up for unemployment.
In 2014, the college sold most of its campus to developer Eric Farrell to reduce its debt. He plans to build a large housing development on that land. Now that the school is closing, Farrell will buy the remaining property under an agreement with the college and People’s United Bank, signed last year. Farrell declined to disclose the price.
According to Moore, Burlington College still owes the bank roughly $3 million — $2.2 million for the original purchase of the land and $750,000 on its line of credit.
Burlington College on Monday
The college appeared all but abandoned on Monday afternoon.
No receptionist was on duty in the main entrance, and some offices appeared empty. Outside, signs congratulating graduates — commencement was on Saturday — stood near an empty white tent where the ceremony was held.
One female student, leaving the college with her mother, declined to comment when approached reporters.