In 2011, Burlington College moved from the 16,000 square foot Colodny building up North Avenue to its current location. Within the 90,000 square feet of the former Burlington Catholic Diocese headquarters, the College is bustling with students and community events, and working to meet the vision set forth during the purchase of the new campus and subsequent change in leadership. As is typical of any evolving business, the College’s growth is not without bumps in the road.
Following its recent review of Burlington College, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), which accredits educational institutions in New England, placed the College on probation status for up to two years for failure to meet one of eleven standards. The standard of concern is based on financial resources, and does not relate to the College’s academic strengths. Burlington College remains accredited during the period of probation.
In a letter to President Christine Plunkett, NEASC stated that “while the College does not now meet the Commission’s standard on Financial Resources, the Commission believes that the institution can meet the standard within two years.” The College had submitted a report outlining plans to reduce its property debt, increase enrollment, and steadily improve its financial operating stability. During the two-year probationary period, the College will make frequent reports to NEASC on its progress to meet the benchmarks identified in its financial plan.
Over the last year, the College has welcomed new board members with financial expertise to the Board of Trustees, assembled a financial task force of outside advisers, hired a consulting CFO, and invested in a strong administrative team.
“This is a time of transition and transformation for the College,” said Board Chair Yves Bradley. “The probationary period is an opportunity to improve our finances and continue to strengthen the institution. The board has approved a solid plan for growth and stability, and we are confident that under President Plunkett’s leadership the College will successfully address the Commission’s financial concerns.”
The College’s investment in its new campus was based on a plan for steady enrollment growth, to an eventual population of more than 500 students. President Plunkett states, “…the NEASC decision to place us on probationary status formalizes what we have been saying publicly for several years. We knew in purchasing this campus there would be a time of financial challenge as the college grows. Burlington College is a very small, young institution, without a significant endowment or large fundraising base to contribute to our operating budget. We are fortunate to have a very engaged and supportive Board of Trustees that has approved a solid financial plan to meet our goals, and we have already made progress in the short time we’ve been on our new campus.”
There are several components to the plan, including a steady increase in enrollment; the sale of legacy student housing properties; the creation of new housing for an increased number of students; and the development of a mixed-use residential community on the College’s southernmost 16 acres.
In the long term, the College’s goal is to serve between 500 and 750 students. Currently, the College serves approximately 290 students, up from the190 students they served in the Colodny building. The College’s small, individualized environment is a good fit for first generation college students, new Americans, veterans, and those desiring student-centered learning. Best known for its creative arts and social sciences curriculum and dedicated faculty and staff, the College draws students both from within Vermont and from across the country.
The College’s Individualized Masters Degree program has seen steady growth since its introduction just over two years ago. From two students enrolled in the summer of 2012, the program has grown to its current enrollment of 23 students, and as many as 34 students projected for the approaching fall semester. The College has also seen steady growth in its unique study abroad programs in Cuba, which include a semester program at the University of Havana, now in its eighth year. Enrollment in week-long programs in specialized areas such as education, health care, and the legal system has grown dramatically, and the College expects to offer as many as ten such trips to Cuba during the coming academic year.
The College has been recognized for its focus on providing flexible pathways to higher education. This spring, the College was the only private college in the state to be designated by Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin to provide the Early College option to high school seniors. Early College is a program that allows high school seniors to take a full year of college classes, which also fulfills their high school requirements. This effectively shortens the time to completion of higher education, saves the student money on tuition, and provides a direct pathway from high school to college. Four Early College students have already enrolled for the fall semester at the College. Several additional applications are under review, and the College is authorized to serve up to eighteen students through this program.
The College has been intentionally selling its student housing properties located at their old Colodny campus. All four houses, as well as the Colodny Building parking lot, are either sold or under contract. For the coming year, students will continue to be housed in the cottage at the new campus, as well as in other local rental properties. In the fall of 2015, in collaboration with Farrell Real Estate, the College expects to open a new facility of student apartments in Colchester, a short distance from the College.
Campus Master Plan and Community Development
Earlier this year, the College unveiled a campus master plan which includes a 16-acre housing development on the south end of its current campus, in collaboration with developer Eric Farrell. The plan includes senior housing, affordable housing, market rate housing, and single family homes. The proceeds of the project will be applied to the College’s debt incurred with the purchase of the current campus. The College expects to pay off more than half of its current debt when the project is complete.
Burlington College’s mission since its inception more than forty years ago has included a focus on community engagement. President Plunkett emphasized this point in her recent announcement that the College intends to open its doors as a Community Center for the North End of Burlington. The vision for the community center includes regular art exhibits in the College galleries, public music performances and film screenings, a café, community access to the College library, reading rooms, art studios and music practice spaces, a career resources center, public meeting rooms, an internet café, and expanded continuing education offerings. This summer’s Mostly Mozart, WYSIWYG, and Precipice music festivals will provide opportunities for individuals and families from the local community to enjoy the beauty of the College’s lakefront acreage.
Burlington College Accreditation
Burlington College is accredited on probation by the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), effective July 2014, because the Commission finds that the institution is in danger of losing its accreditation because it is not in compliance with the Standards for Accreditation. Of concern is the accreditation standard on Financial Resources. A statement providing further information about the probationary status is available on the website of the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education.