Frequently Asked Questions
The facts on proposed alliance with Emerson College
Why is Marlboro planning to partner with Emerson?
Marlboro College, like many other small liberal arts colleges, has been experiencing a growing crisis related to its enrollment and finances. Since 2012, we have seen a significant decline in enrollment and net tuition revenues. When the college’s population was at its peak in the early 2000’s, there were approximately 350 students on Potash Hill; today we have 150 students. Marlboro’s enrollment struggles reflect a broader demographic trend involving a steep decline in the number of college-age students nationally.
Marlboro College is accredited by the New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE), and that accreditation rests on the college’s continuing ability to meet specific standards. Since 2017, Marlboro has been on a Notice of Concern because of our enrollment and revenue challenges, which means that NECHE is concerned that we aren’t meeting the financial standards necessary to remain an accredited institution. Marlboro completed its regularly scheduled interim report to NECHE in October 2019, and they have informed us that our current status will change to a higher level of warning unless the college, in short order, either finalizes a partnership or receives a financial gift significantly greater than our current endowment and well beyond our fundraising expectations. Such a change to our status would be public, most likely probation or “show cause why accreditation shouldn’t be immediately revoked.” A public warning from NECHE would severely impact our admissions and retention efforts, which would further undermine Marlboro’s ability to meet NECHE standards. With our accreditation in jeopardy, Marlboro could face a sudden closure as early as the end of the current academic year.
Compounding this challenge, college education remains unaffordable for many students and their families. Ninety-eight percent of students at Marlboro receive financial aid. Last year the board of trustees voted to reduce tuition by nearly a third, from $39,870 to $26,500. The tuition reduction was designed to bolster enrollment and reduce the sticker price for our students. This was a positive measure for our students but, unfortunately, did little to support our enrollment efforts. This year Marlboro has an operating deficit of six million dollars, and it will require an unsustainable draw on the endowment to balance the budget. Multiple efforts, including admissions and marketing outreach, a scholarship program, curricular changes to better support students, and a new student-alumni online platform to promote mentoring and networking, have been undertaken in an attempt to increase enrollment and retention rates. On the financial side, the college has instituted hiring freezes, staffing cuts, the sale of the graduate school building in Brattleboro, and other attempts to bring the budget in line with the college’s challenges. Despite our best attempts we have been unable to reverse the trend of falling enrollment and increasing deficits.
Last year, the board of trustees hired EY Parthenon, a respected higher education consulting firm, to help find a path forward for Marlboro. They identified a partnership or merger as the best solution to preserve the educational model and mission of the institution.
Why does the campus have to close?
Last spring Marlboro sent nearly 80 letters of inquiry to other colleges and universities seeking a partnership that would support Marlboro’s mission and pedagogy. These schools were strategically identified, with help from our consultant EY Parthenon, as potential partners for a variety of factors. Follow-up conversations were held with about 30 of these institutions, and five submitted formal proposals to partner with Marlboro. None of these schools, with the exception of the University of Bridgeport, expressed interest in maintaining our Vermont campus. As we came to see in our negotiations with UB, that was not truly a viable option, which left Marlboro with very few choices.
Were other options considered besides partnering with Emerson College?
In their process, the board looked at a wide variety of options beyond partnerships. After considering all possibilities, the board concluded that only two options were viable. If Marlboro’s board of trustees had not voted in favor of pursuing an alliance with Emerson, ethical closure remained the other alternative. Ethical closure would involve suspending recruitment and teaching out all remaining students. It would have included staggered layoffs and the winding down of programs and services due to a shrinking number of students on campus.
Marlboro has an endowment of approximately $35 million. Why can’t the college survive by using this money?
Thanks to the generosity of donors and decades of careful stewardship, Marlboro’s endowment has grown. In recent years the college has needed to use an increasingly larger percentage of the endowment’s earnings to offset budget deficits. This level of spending out of the endowment is not sustainable in the long term. Additionally, many of the funds in the endowment are restricted and cannot be used for general operating costs. Lastly it is the job of our accreditors, the New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE) to see that we have enough financing to ensure that any students we admit will be able to receive degrees from Marlboro. As the endowment dwindles and tuition revenue remains inadequate to cover expenses, our ability to do this is being called into question.
Why an alliance with Emerson, in particular?
Marlboro’s strengths, including its mission, faculty, and endowment, will bolster Emerson’s commitment to interdisciplinary studies and progressive education. In particular, Marlboro’s endowment will be used solely for the Marlboro Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies at Emerson. The institute attracts a student population who share many of the attributes of Marlboro students. Emerson has also expressed a strong commitment to the academic and social success of our students.
What happened to the University of Bridgeport merger proposal?
Summer 2019 we announced a potential partnership with University of Bridgeport (UB). Initially this proposed partnership appeared to have all we wished for, including preserving jobs for faculty and staff, as well as maintaining a presence on our Vermont campus. As we began to negotiate the details, it became apparent that many of those goals would not be met in a partnership with UB.
Is the Emerson alliance a done deal?
Marlboro’s board of trustees has signed a Term Sheet with Emerson College. This is the first step in creating the Marlboro Institute of Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies on the Emerson campus in Boston. We hope to have a Memorandum of Understanding completed this spring, with the merger becoming official on July 1, 2020 (the first day of the new fiscal year).
What will happen to students who are attending Marlboro?
Current students will have the opportunity to move to Emerson. Emerson has committed to honoring every student’s current tuition and financial aid for the duration of their program; students who would prefer to study elsewhere will receive help in transferring to a college of their choice. Students currently on Plan will have the option to complete their work at Emerson with Marlboro faculty and will also have access to Emerson’s faculty and extensive interdisciplinary course offerings.
Will students’ diplomas still be from Marlboro College?
Students who graduate in May 2020 will receive diplomas from Marlboro; students who complete their credits in the fall of 2020 and later will receive a degree from Emerson, although Marlboro will be identified on the diploma.
What will happen to faculty?
All twenty-four members of Marlboro’s tenure-track and tenured faculty have been invited to join Emerson’s faculty with the same tenure status as they have at Marlboro and a substantial raise in pay, which will help to ease the transition to an area with a higher cost of living. We will know more in the coming months about how many faculty choose to accept this offer, but the early signs are promising.
What will happen to staff?
Unfortunately staff are not part of the merger and will not be able to remain with Marlboro after the college moves to Emerson’s Boston campus. Marlboro’s board of trustees is committed to providing fair and equitable severance packages and hopes to avoid layoffs in advance of July 1, 2020 if at all possible. The details are yet to be decided, but the college is consulting with a firm that specializes in this process to assist.
What will happen to the campus?
This is an important question with many stakeholders. Marlboro’s buildings and 500-acre campus will become the property of Emerson College on July 1, 2020. The college has formed a Campus Working Group that includes representatives from the following groups: students, faculty, staff, alumni, the board of trustees, and the Town of Marlboro selectboard. The job of this working group will be to gather input and ideas, evaluate them, and make recommendations to the Marlboro board of trustees about the future of the campus.
Will the Marlboro Music Festival continue to use the campus during the summer months?
Yes, the Marlboro Music Festival has a 99-year lease, signed in 2019, to use the campus during the summer months. The Music Festival is funding the construction of several new buildings on campus, one to house musicians and another to serve as an administrative and rehearsal space, which will be completed in 2020 and 2021. Christopher Serkin, chair of their board, and grandson of founder Rudolf Serkin, has sent a letter to all of their stakeholders confirming their intent to remain on this campus for the next century.
What will happen to the Plan Room at the Rice-Aron Library? Where will the plans for former students be housed?
The Plan Room is very important to Marlboro’s history and identity, and it will be a priority to ensure that it remains a resource for the Marlboro community. We do not yet know where Plans of Concentration will be housed, but this is an issue that one of the working groups will address.
What about current alumni benefits like auditing classes for free, having Marlboro.edu email addresses, and accessing JSTOR?
We do not yet have the answer to these questions, but our goal is to preserve as many benefits as possible for Marlboro alumni while also seeking new benefits that may be currently available to Emerson alumni. For updates, make sure you are receiving The Root newsletter, check the website in the What’s Next section. Alumni should also feel free to reach out to Maia Segura ’91, Marlboro’s director of alumni engagement, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What about prizes, scholarships, and awards? Will they still be available to Marlboro students at Emerson College?
Our expectation is that most, if not all, of Marlboro’s endowed prizes, scholarships, and awards will move to the Marlboro Institute at Emerson and be available to future students.
What is the role of the Marlboro admissions office now that an alliance with Emerson is planned?
The admissions office will be recruiting students for the new Marlboro Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies at Emerson College. The Admissions team in coordination with Emrson’s admissions team is in the process of revising its website and printed materials to reflect the change. Prospective students are still encouraged to visit campus in order to sample classes, meet students and faculty, and complete an interview with Admissions staff, but campus tours have been suspended.
Will the college still be fundraising this year?
Yes, Marlboro still needs to support the 150 students on campus for the spring semester. The Advancement office will be asking for support of the Annual Fund, which covers current operating expenses. To make an online gift, go to https://www.marlboro.edu/giving/give-online/. We are deeply thankful for all those who have provided financial support over the years. Additionally, we plan to offer our alumni and friends the opportunity to direct their support to assisting students, faculty, and staff throughout this process, through the Transition Fund.
Will Marlboro maintain its own website - marlboro.edu - once it moves to Emerson?
We are working on ways to hold onto the marlboro.edu domain name, as well as other things that preserve the Marlboro identity at Emerson.
How do I get a copy of my transcript next year?
As of July 1, 2020, you can obtain a copy of your Marlboro transcript from the Registrar’s office at Emerson College. All of your academic records will transfer there and will be available by contacting them. In the meantime, you can request a copy of your transcript or request a notarized diploma from the Marlboro registrar.
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