Luskin: College Town

Sep 23, 2014

Unlike many much larger towns, Brattleboro boasts a rich cultural life filled with music, art, intellectual exchange, lively politics and literature. On any given night, residents can attend concerts, lectures, theater, or classes. Sometimes, the choices are so varied it’s easier just to stay home and read.
 

Before the Brooks House fire in 2011 destroyed The Book Cellar, Brattleboro hosted five independent bookstores. Four remain. The town is also rich in cafes where locals read while nursing cups of locally roasted coffee. The reading room of the public library, on Main Street, is another popular hangout for readers of both paper-based and electronic information. This kind of literary activity, political activism, and artistic expression is of a sort often associated with college towns. In fact, Brattleboro has often been described as a college town without a college.

But for years there have been two undergraduate colleges nearby. Eleven miles north in Putney is Landmark College, one of the preeminent colleges for students with learning differences. And Marlboro College, founded in 1946 on progressive principles of student-centered learning, is about 12 miles to the west.

But Marlboro’s Graduate Center is located downtown, where it’s been offering innovative and accredited Master’s Degrees since 1997. For fifty years, Brattleboro has also been home to the School for International Training, which offers eight different Masters’ degrees through its accredited Graduate Institute. The town also hosted The Thompson School of Nursing, now part of Vermont Technical College. Brattleboro also provides a physical location for Union Institute and University, which offers on-line undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Six educational institutions of higher learning is rather a lot for a “college town without a college,” so it’s no wonder residents have always been swift to set the record straight. But there’s no longer any need for defensive measures, because Brattleboro is now home to the Vermont Technical College and the Community College of Vermont, both located in the very heart of downtown.

Out of the ashes of the old Brooks House Hotel, which anchors the corner of High Street and Main, has risen a renovated, rehabilitated and refurbished building the likes of which townsfolk haven’t seen on that corner since the original Brooks House opened in 1871.

For a while, it wasn’t clear what would happen to the burned out hotel. But a group of private investors bought the place, determined to bring the building back. Finding financing for the project was complicated, and securing Vermont Technical College and the Community College of Vermont as long-term tenants helped.

School is now in session, with nearly three hundred students studying downtown. There are also plans to establish the Windham Higher Education Cooperative, where students from one of the participating schools could take a course each semester at another, eventually making Brattleboro a hub of higher learning like the Claremont Colleges in California or the Five Colleges just to our south in western Massachusetts.

Without a doubt Brattleboro is now indeed a bonafide college town.