hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News June 2018



Rutland college struggles as enrollment shrinks


The College of St. Joseph is struggling to stay open in the face of financial problems and declining enrollment.

The trustees of the 62-year-old Catholic liberal arts college in Rutland revealed in late April that they were considering closing the school, which had burned through about 90 percent of its $5 million endowment. After the college’s faculty and staff came up with a variety of revenue-generating proposals, and after a series of emotional community meetings with students, the trustees ultimately voted 13-3 to keep the institution open.

But by mid-May, the Rutland Herald reported that the college might be at risk of losing its accreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. The accrediting organization said it had “reason to believe” that the College of St. Joseph no longer had sufficient financial resources to sustain its educational mission.

College President Lawrence Jensen told a campus forum in late April that administrators had used $2.5 million of the college’s endowment to support development of a master’s degree program for physician assistants. The college wound up abandoning that effort in 2016, however, when the program failed to win accreditation. Jensen said another $2 million was spent to cover operating losses at the college, which this year had only about 200 students – down from 327 in 2015.

The Herald reviewed the college’s federal tax filings for 2014 and 2015, the most recent years available online, and reported that the school’s operating losses increased from $1.46 million in 2014 to $2.58 million in 2015. Between those two years, total employee compensation grew from $3.63 million to $4.47 million, even as enrollment fell.

The board of trustees announced at the college’s May 26 graduation ceremony that Jennifer Scott, an administrator from Union Institute & University in Cincinnati, will replace Jensen as college president this month.

Officials of the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, an arm of the New England college accrediting organization, told the Herald that College of St. Joseph will have until June 28 to submit a report detailing what the college is doing to strengthen its financial situation. The commission’s members expect to visit Rutland on that date for a “show-cause review” to evaluate the college.

Although the situation at College of St. Joseph is more acute, the college is among several in the region where shrinking enrollment has lately been forcing cuts in jobs and programs.

Just 20 minutes to the west of Rutland, Castleton University announced last month that it had trimmed its staff by 30 people, including 10 through layoffs, in an effort to adjust its budget to reflect “enrollment realities.” The college has about 450 employees and in recent years has had about 2,000 students.

The job cuts at Castleton followed an earlier round of cutbacks in March that included the elimination of two dean positions and the closing of the Castleton Polling Institute. The institute, founded in 2011, was the only nonpartisan public opinion polling organization based in Vermont.

In other news from around the region in May:


Art auctions yield less than expected
The Berkshire Museum forged ahead in May with auctions of an initial round of 13 pieces from its collection, but many of the works sold for less than expected.

The art auctions, held at Sotheby’s in Manhattan, involved the first of up to 40 works the museum’s leaders decided to sell last year to help boost the institution’s endowment, renovate its building and revamp its mission to focus more on natural history. The controversial art sales originally were scheduled to start in November but were delayed six months by legal challenges.
The Berkshire Eagle reported that the first two auctions, held the week of May 14, yielded sale prices of $2.16 million, or nearly one-third less than the minimum prices Sotheby’s had estimated the artworks would fetch. By May 22, the newspaper calculated that the museum was running $1,725,000 below the low-bid estimates Sotheby’s had set for the pieces sold at that point.
Under a deal reached between the museum and state Attorney General Maura Healey and backed by the courts, the museum can sell off up to $55 million in art from its collection.
Critics have argued that the museum is violating a public trust by selling off artwork that in many cases was donated with the understanding that it would remain in the Berkshires for local people to enjoy. Some opponents protested outside Sotheby’s at last month’s auctions.

-- Compiled by Fred Daley