Marlboro, Connecticut merger

MARLBORO, Vt. — Marlboro College and the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut plan to merge, the institutions recently announced.

The Vermont liberal arts college began looking for a “strategic partner” through the work of a task force that started exploring ways to address declining enrollment and financial challenges roughly a year ago. The college considered more than 100 potential partners before moving forward with the University of Bridgeport, according to Marlboro College’s website.

Small liberal arts colleges across New England and the country, including Keene State College, have also been grappling with enrollment challenges. According to a report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, the estimated number of undergraduates enrolled in liberal arts, general studies or humanities programs at four-year institutions dropped by about 7 percent between spring 2018 and spring 2019.

In a news release posted on its website, Marlboro College President Kevin Quigley described the planned merger as an opportunity to join the strengths of both institutions. The University of Bridgeport is known for its STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and health sciences programs, according to the release, and Marlboro College offers a self-directed liberal arts curriculum for undergraduates and graduate students.

“It links our beautiful campuses in the Green Mountains and on Long Island Sound in innovative ways that will expand educational opportunities for all of our students, better preparing them for meaningful work and lives of purpose,” Quigley said in the release.

Marlboro College has fewer than 500 students, while the University of Bridgeport has more than 5,000. Following the merger, students from both institutions would have access to programs and facilities on the two campuses, Marlboro College’s website says.

A merger would also bridge rural and urban settings, according to the release. At Marlboro College, students participate in weekly New England-style “town meetings” to vote on college-wide issues, while the University of Bridgeport is the “most diverse private, secular university in the Northeast,” the release says.

“At a time of hyper-competition and swift change in higher education, our two unique institutions are demonstrating a new paradigm for colleges and universities of the future,” said Laura Skandera Trombley, president of the University of Bridgeport, in the release. “In strategically combining the shared values, strengths, and resources of the University of Bridgeport and Marlboro College, we are proactively ensuring an extraordinarily enriched academic experience for current and future generations of students.”

To make sure each institution has an equal voice going forward, five members of the Marlboro College Board of Trustees will join the University of Bridgeport’s Board of Trustees, the Vermont college’s website says. A Marlboro College committee will also be created and led by a Marlboro trustee.

The merger must be approved by both institutions’ boards of trustees, according to Marlboro College, and there is currently no set timeline for its completion. But the release says students could “benefit from the merger” as early as spring 2020.

Meg McIntyre can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1404, or mmcintyre@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter

@MMcIntyreKS.