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Goddard College to Close After Spring Term


Published April 9, 2024 at 2:14 p.m.

Goddard College campus - ANNE WALLACE ALLEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
  • Goddard College campus
Goddard College, the progressive school founded in Plainfield in 1938, is closing at the end of the spring term and will sell its campus, trustees announced on Tuesday.

The move was prompted by low spring enrollment numbers at the struggling school, which announced earlier this year that it was going fully virtual.

President Dan Hocoy blamed demographic changes that have reduced the number of high school students nationwide and inflation that has raised the cost of living for potential Goddard students. He noted in an interview on Tuesday that Goddard has been struggling financially for 50 years, since enrollment reached a high of around 1,900 in the early 1970s.

“We’ve come close to closing on several occasions,” Hocoy said. Spring enrollment is about 220, he said — down from 340 in fall 2019.

Many of the alumni who reacted on social media said they were not surprised.

“I did all my crying and grieving for Goddard many moons ago,” wrote one, posting in the alumni Facebook group.

“What surprises me, if anything, is that it took so long,” wrote another.
Goddard set itself apart from other colleges by offering highly individualized, self-designed learning programs for students in the arts and humanities.

The school is located on a 117-acre estate once known as Greatwood that was built around 1908 and includes 90 acres of forest. Hocoy confirmed that the campus is for sale, but he declined to say for how much. A group called Cooperation Vermont wants to start an educational institution there and has announced plans to purchase the property.

“We want to make sure the campus grounds aren’t sold to some speculators who don’t have the interests of the people of central Vermont in mind,” the group said in recent fundraising materials.

Trustee and 2020 alumnus Dennis Rush said he, too, would like the campus to pass into the hands of a group such as Cooperation Vermont for a community-based purpose.

“That would be the ideal,” said Rush, noting that he was speaking for himself, not the board. “For the campus to be a living memorial to Goddard College would be fantastic.”

Trustees had also hoped Cabot Creamery would be interested in buying the campus, Rush said. The dairy cooperative, which is owned by Massachusetts-based Agrimark, houses about 30 of its workers in Goddard dorms — an arrangement that Hocoy said will continue after the college closes and will be guaranteed in any purchase agreement.

As his predecessors were, Hocoy has been widely blamed for Goddard's  decline, with alumni and staff charging that he's out of touch with the school's progressive ideals. Students, faculty and staff found out about the closure on Tuesday at the same time the public did, said Otto Muller, a Woodbury artist who has taught in Goddard’s undergraduate studies program for 16 years.

“The fact that there was no consultation with faculty or communication to faculty before this announcement demonstrates this administration’s disregard and disdain for the democratic ideals that the college was founded on, and for the work we do there,” Muller wrote in an email.

About 90 people will lose their jobs, Hocoy said on Tuesday. The school has had a low-residency academic program for years, so many faculty members live outside Vermont.

“I know this is concerning news for Goddard as well as the Plainfield community,” Gov. Phil Scott said in a prepared statement. “The Department of Labor will be reaching out to offer resources to impacted employees, and the state will engage with Goddard and potential partners to help figure out how to make the best use of the facilities and grounds in the future.”

Hocoy said current students will be able to complete their degrees through Prescott College, a low-residency school in Arizona, and Goddard’s $1 million endowment will be used for scholarships to help them finish their degrees. He said he was sad about the closure.

"Goddard has transformed many lives," said Hocoy, who was hired as president in 2021. "Our alumni are thought leaders, change agents, artists, poets and musicians. It's a great loss for Plainfield, for the State of Vermont and for progressive education in our country.”

Sociologist and author Nikhil Goyal, who graduated in 2016, said the progressive education offered by Goddard is needed now more than ever.

"At a time of rising authoritarianism, extreme inequality and needless suffering, it is imperative we have institutions of higher education that produce citizens who will help repair the world," he said. "Goddard leaves a massive void."

Corrections, April 9, 2024: A previous version of this story had erroneous figures for enrollment in the current semester and at the school's peak in the early 1970s.

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