Union Institute and University to leave Montpelier

Will consolidate Vermont facilities in Brattleboro

Union Institute and University, a four-year liberal arts program, will close its Montpelier campus in mid-June when its long-term lease with the Vermont College of Fine Arts expires. The University is consolidating its facilities in Vermont and will continue to offer a weekend residency program in Brattleboro.

More students are opting out of low-residency programs and taking online-only courses, according to Ann Stanton, an associate dean of the University. The move was prompted by students demanding more flexibility, less “seat time,” and a less expensive education.

“For me what's sad is that our physical presence won't be here anymore,” Stanton said. “Montpelier is so special for students.” The loss of the campus for students graduating this year will be “jarring,” she said.

According to Carolyn Krause, associate vice president of communications for Union Institute, the school's Montpelier weekend residency enrollments have declined over the past decade. Union has about 30 students in the Montpelier residency program and 80 online students, Krause said via email.

Approximately 15 positions in Montpelier will be affected when the program closes next year. Most of these jobs will be moved to Brattleboro or Cincinnati, Ohio. Three program adviser positions will not be filled. There will be no faculty reductions; instructors will continue to offer online courses and will participate in the Brattleboro weekend option.

Union Institute has had a presence in Montpelier since 1980. The University purchased the Vermont College campus from Norwich University in 2001, then sold it to the Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2007. Union's Montpelier base consists of one building on the campus.

The University, based in Cincinnati, has six satellite residency programs, including locations in California (Los Angeles and Sacramento), Ohio and Vermont.

Union Institute and University helped to pioneer the “university without walls” concept. The University was founded in 1962, and late that decade began offering long-distance, interdisciplinary learning for non-traditional students as an alternative to full-time residency programs.

Goddard College, which has a similar program, was ahead of UI on that front by a few years.

Before Union went fully digital in 2005, the school offered correspondence coursework through the U.S. Postal Service.

The non-traditional approach is designed to attract students who might not otherwise pursue a four-year bachelor's degree program, including single moms, caregivers, and adults who dropped out of college and are now working full time.

The real innovation was tailoring a low-residency program to adult students' individual situations, Stanton said. Union takes a Deweysque approach to education, recognizing that degree-seeking adults “need a way to integrate” life and learning. Independent study is the norm: Students explore what they want to learn before they commit to a course of study, and then they choose the faculty with whom they want to work.

Union enjoys a special relationship with the Community College of Vermont: Students with an associate's degree from CCV qualify for scholarships, and course credits count toward the total course requirements. The Brattleboro location offers a one-year teacher certification program.

Bill Kaplan, a senior vice president with the Vermont College of Fine Arts, says Union's departure isn't a surprise. The college has leased much of the space on the campus. Its tenants also include New England Culinary Institute, the state of Vermont, the New School, and Pacem Learning Center.

Kaplan says he doesn't think the college will have any difficulty finding a new tenant, and that VCFA might absorb some of the space for its own growing low-residency programs in creative writing and poetry, children's literature and graphic arts.

The college has 380 students and an annual operating budget of more than $10 million.

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