Dr. Carol Moore, the president of Burlington College, spoke with VPR Wednesday about what she called "not a pleasant topic": the closure of the college, the contributing factors and what's next for BC students.
On Monday, the school announced it will be closing on May 27. The school says it's under a "crushing weight" of debt and it's being forced to shut down because its line of credit is being cut off. Faculty, staff and students at Burlington College are spending this week trying to figure out what to do next.
Much of the financial trouble seems to stem from a big land purchase deal made under the tenure of former college president Jane Sanders, the wife of Sen. Bernie Sanders.
In April 2015, Moore told VPR that despite the school's ongoing challenges, she was confident in its future.
“I’m confident that those students that started in the midst of the turmoil in 2014 will get a diploma," said Moore at the time. "I may not be here to hand them a diploma, but there will be a president in this office to hand those groups of young people their diploma from Burlington College.”
What's changed since then? On Wednesday, Moore said "instability around the college" prevented the school from hitting recruitment goals.
"We were able to reduce our debt significantly from a little over $11 million down to about $2.2 million through the sale of property that had been in the parcel originally purchased," says Moore. "The unfortunate thing was the instability around the college, with many staff members coming and going.
"As a result of that and publicity around the college, and the constant 'the colleges closing' theme, our recruitment for fall 2015 was well below what had been normally the incoming class," Moore says. "That put us in a difficult position from the standpoint of cash flow. But we just could not make it without additional line of credit."
People's United Bank is said to have cut off that line of credit. Moore says the bank told the college they were no longer a "good credit risk."
"Frankly, I suggest you ask the bank. But in a nutshell, the bank just did not feel as though we were a good credit risk any longer, and decided that they had extended all that they could to us, and that they couldn't extend anymore."
At that point, Moore says she and the board of trustees explored a few options to try and keep the school open, including a few "significant donors."
"Those donors were very interested in supporting the college but it didn't work out in time," Moore says. "We also approached other colleges to talk about merging and again, [but] the timing was just not timely enough for us to complete those kinds of conversations."
While most of the school's academic programs will shut down on May 27, a few things will remain open.
"All of the core programs that people would associate with the college will be closing," Moore says. "We have some relationships with partners and some of those programs can be carried out until our accreditation is withdrawn in December 2016."
The chairman of Burlington College's board of trustees told VTDigger that the school will do its best to pay back creditors.
"We do have accounts payable, regrettably, and whether or not we're going to be able to meet all of that is yet to be seen," says Moore.
But Moore says it's unlikely the school will declare bankruptcy.
"We probably will not go that particular legal route because of some of the ramifications," she says.
On what role the land deal played in the school's financial issues:
Moore says she sees the land deal as a primary cause.
"Money is why our accreditation is going to be withdrawn. In the eyes of the New England Association [of Schools and Colleges], we do not meet the financial standard."
And on Jane Sanders' role?
"I think it's pretty hard to be a Monday-morning quarterback," Moore says.
A Vermont Republican party operative had previously called for an investigation into the finances at Burlington College. Moore says she's not aware of any ongoing investigations into the school or its finances.
"As far as I know, the college itself is not under investigation," Moore said.
Moore says she cannot comment on if she or any of the faculty have received subpoenas.
On reaction to the news from students:
"They are obviously saddened to have to go to another college. Right now the students are either on the phone or coming into the building to meet with factory and staff to explore their options to go elsewhere," Moore said.
"And we'll be sending emails out through their Burlington College email too, to update them. Then we have a hotline here for students to call in who might want to get a transcript."
Moore says when she took on the position as the college's president, she was "confident that the college could be turned around."
"Everyone here is quite frustrated in that our enrollments are looking so good for fall , that if we could have gotten through, in terms of cash flow, to the fall we would be on a growth path."
Disclosure: People's United Bank is a VPR underwriter.