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Group Forms to Fight Marlboro Absorption

December 9, 2019
 
 

About a month after Emerson College announced plans to absorb Marlboro College, a group is coming forward with an alternative effort that it says would keep Marlboro open and independent.

The group, led by two former Marlboro faculty members who also live in the town of Marlboro, Vt., wants to put in a place a “reboot plan” that would use career-track programs to generate revenue and support the college without additional endowment dollars. It’s pitching the programs as new offerings that would be designed to break even from their first year.

“Marlboro turns out critical thinkers with enormous personal agency and can-do spirit,” said Adrian Segar, one of the group’s leaders, in a statement. “Many alums with world-class expertise in enterprise, marketing, fundraising, and higher-ed management have offered their assistance to turn the school around. They’ve been met with radio silence.”

The other former faculty member leading the group, T. Hunter Wilson, pledged to persist in fighting to keep the “unique and beloved” Marlboro open. Marlboro, a self-described tiny college located in Vermont, will close its campus at the end of the 2019-20 academic year under current plans. Emerson is in Boston.

“Emerson College (in Boston) has proposed to name its already-existing liberal arts institute after Marlboro, but community members are skeptical anything distinctive of Marlboro College would remain within a few years,” Wilson said in a statement. “This isn’t a merger; it’s a closure. It would be a devastating blow to the town.”

Marlboro plans to meet with the group this week, according to Kevin F. F. Quigley, its president. He declined further comment until after that meeting.

The organized effort pledging to keep Marlboro open has shades of revolts that kept other private colleges operating independently despite administrators’ efforts to close or merge them. Sweet Briar College in Virginia was slated for closure in 2015 before alumnae wrested control from its leaders and kept the women’s college running. More recently, Hampshire College in Massachusetts openly sought partnerships at the beginning of this year before alumni fought the idea of a merger and its board decided to try to raise money to stay independent.

It’s not clear whether a similar story can unfold at Marlboro. Its size pales in comparison to Sweet Briar and Hampshire, which themselves are small colleges. Hampshire enrolled almost 1,200 students in 2018, and Sweet Briar had 337, according to federal data. Marlboro had fewer than 150 students, and its leaders have pointed to differences in alumni engagement and donations.

This isn’t the first time Marlboro has tried to merge. Earlier this fall, leaders dropped plans for a merger with the University of Bridgeport.

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