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Marlboro College Has Deal In Place To Sell Campus

Howard Weiss-Tisman
Democracy Builders, a nonprofit educational organization, has a contract in place to purchase the 500-acre Marlboro College campus.

Marlboro College says it has a contract in place to sell its 500-acre campus to Democracy Builders, an educational nonprofit organization that wants to start a hybrid online-residential college in southeastern Vermont.Marlboro is close to finalizing its deal with Emerson College, an agreement that would bring the Marlboro name and educational program to the Emerson campus in Boston.

But Emerson administrators said from the start that the school was not interested in owning the Vermont campus, and as the deal between Emerson and Marlboro nears completion, Marlboro announced that it would sell the campus to Democracy Builders.

Democracy Builders founder Seth Andrew says he wants to start a new model in Marlboro that would focus on low income and first-generation college students.

“There is a group of students that have not been served well by this system either, who would like to go college but just need to find the right fit, and that’s what we’re trying to build,” Andrew said.

He said he wants to have students and faculty in Vermont this September, if state and federal COVID-19 guidelines allow it.

Terms of the deal were not available as this story went to press.

Marlboro College has a capacity of about 300 students, and Andrew hopes to move three groups, of about 300 students, into and out of the Vermont campus during the academic year, to eventually reach a student population of about 900.

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Even though small liberal arts colleges in Vermont, and across the country, are closing, Andrew thinks his model can survive.

He said fulltime residential programs are too expensive to run and by adopting an online-residential hybrid, his school has a better chance of surviving.

“The problem is that the system as it’s structured today is broken,” Andrew said. “But if we make it affordable, flexible and inclusive, we will have a totally different model to expand to a lot more students than have access to it today.”

After the deal with Emerson was announced, Marlboro College put together a campus working group to try to find a new owner of the property.

The group received multiple offers, according to a press release, but Marlboro College Board Chairman Dick Saudek said the board most supported Democracy Builders’ mission.

“We have a committed and unified board that enthusiastically embraced the idea of having this novel and forward-looking higher education model on our beloved campus,” Saudek said. “The entire process, including our proposed alliance with Emerson, will be a remarkable confluence of organizations and cooperation. We believe Democracy Builders will continue Marlboro traditions and bring valuable new jobs and opportunities to the Marlboro community and the State of Vermont.”

"The problem is that the system as it's structured today is broken." - Seth Andrew, founder of Democracy Builders

Democracy Builders will partner with another college to run its academic program in Vermont until it is able to get its own accreditation.

Andrew said the new chancellor of the college could be named in the next week or so.

Andrew served in the Obama White House as Senior Advisor in the Executive Office of the President and for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

He also is the founder of Democracy Prep, a network of more than 20 public charter schools.

The agreement to sell the Marlboro Campus must be approved by Vermont’s Attorney General.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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