America’s Small Colleges Were Already Hurting Pre-Covid. Things Are About To Get Worse.

There was history underfoot at Vermont’s Marlboro College. Tucked away in the Green Mountains, the nonprofit institution founded at the end of World War II held its first graduation in 1948. Robert Frost read a poem at the ceremony and Life Magazine printed a picture of its lone alum: a former rifleman named Hugh Mulligan who spent the years after the war hobnobbing in Paris with the likes of Picasso and studied Shakespeare in operatic form. 

Mulligan died in 2008. And now Marlboro is gone too, shuttered after this year’s spring semester following years of fiscal turmoil. The bucolic 533-acre campus was sold for $1.725 million in cash and debt, plus operating expenses—a sum reportedly “far below the property’s assessed value.”

It’s hardly alone. At least a dozen independent, regional colleges are on the brink of collapse—mostly in the northeast—and all buckling from the one-two punch of dwindling enrollment

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