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Marlboro College consolidates campuses

Graduate, undergraduate programs unite this weekend as college seeks buyer for Brattleboro center

BRATTLEBORO—Marlboro College’s undergraduate and graduate campuses are only about a dozen miles apart.

But when college President Kevin Quigley was interviewing for that job in early 2015, he noticed a much greater divide.

“It was quite striking to me to think of two programs, part of the same institution, but there seemed to be this enormous cultural gap,” Quigley recalled.

Marlboro administrators hope that’s about to change, as the two campuses are scheduled to officially unite this weekend. They say moving the graduate school from Brattleboro to the main campus in Marlboro makes sense financially, academically, and administratively.

At the same time, administrators are working to find a buyer for the graduate school’s former home — a prominent downtown Brattleboro office building that carries an assessed value of more than $3 million.

“That’s a process we’re in the midst of,” Quigley said. “We have some strong interest from a buyer who’s deep into their due diligence.”

Marlboro College was founded in 1946. Its graduate school, officially called the Graduate and Professional Studies program, didn’t come along until 1997.

The graduate program, Quigley said, “really was designed to be separate” — a space apart from the main campus, created to foster academic innovation and pioneer the use of distance learning.

But times have changed.

Better ways to connect

Quigley, who took over as president in 2015, said early in his tenure that he wanted to find ways to better connect the two campuses. It didn’t start as an effort to pull out of Brattleboro, but that’s how things ended up after much deliberation.

One factor, Quigley said, was space: There was plenty available in Marlboro, and possibly too much in Brattleboro. The graduate school occupied about 30 percent of the Brattleboro building, and the program’s “low residency” model meant that students often weren’t on site.

“One of the things that became clear is, we didn’t use that space in Brattleboro very efficiently,” Quigley said.

There are a variety of other tenants in the Brattleboro building at 28 Vernon St. But Quigley notes that “being a landlord to all those tenants is not our core business.”

At the bucolic main campus, Marlboro officials say they’ve had no trouble making room for graduate operations.

Administration and faculty are settling into a building near the president’s house. And the college’s graduate classes in teaching and management, which happen on weekends and over the summer, will be hosted at facilities including the library and the college’s new Snyder Center for the Visual Arts.

While administrators aren’t concerned about space or scheduling conflicts between graduate students and undergrads, they believe some overlap will be a good thing.

Some of that could happen in structured ways — for instance, graduate students teaching a workshop, or undergrads taking a graduate-level course.

Kate Jellema, the college’s associate dean for graduate and professional studies, said she’s also excited about less-formal connections that could benefit both sets of students. Until now, it wasn’t uncommon for graduate students to never see the undergraduate campus, and vice versa.

“There’s been very little chance for the easy, informal interactions to happen,” Jellema said. “Just the fact that we will now be having lunch together opens up so many conversations that we weren’t having before.”

Jellema co-chaired an Integration Committee formed after Marlboro’s trustees decided to combine the campuses late last year. The group sought ideas and concerns from students, staff, and alumni.

A positive response

Most of the response was positive — in part because of the availability of more amenities at the main campus. After some graduate students visited the campus recently for their “first residency on the hill,” reviews included praise for the library, dining hall, and classrooms.

The committee did hear concerns about adding time to graduate students’ commute. “It’s not that many [extra] miles, but they are Route 9 miles,” Jellema said, referring to the winding, mountainous highway that leads toward Marlboro.

The campus’ remove, however, was a positive for others. Jellema said many of Marlboro’s graduate students come from urban areas, and “there was excitement about the ready access to the great outdoors” on the mountain.

She also thinks there will be benefits in giving graduate students — most of whom are working professionals — a quieter spot for their studies. “Being up on this hill allows us to deepen the sense of retreat,” Jellema said. “We give people time and space to think.”

The combined campus concept gets its first official test on April 7-9, the first graduate residency weekend when undergraduate students will be on campus. Marlboro administrators are planning a variety of events on April 8, including a community dinner.

Even as the college consolidates its students and staff in Marlboro, Quigley said he still considers Brattleboro to be part of the college’s “community.” He said it’s possible that the school could retain some sort of physical presence in Brattleboro.

But it will be much smaller than the current graduate center, which the college bought for $3.5 million in 2000, according to town records.

Quigley couldn’t disclose the name of the center’s potential purchaser. But selling the structure could be a financial lift for Marlboro College, which has been working to reverse an enrollment decline and raise its profile.

“If we get the kind of price we’re hoping and expecting, we can pay off a significant amount of the college’s debt,” Quigley said. “And that will be helpful to the college’s balance sheet.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #402 (Wednesday, April 5, 2017).

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