Marlboro College

MARLBORO, Vt. — Facing “severe financial challenges,” Marlboro College might be heading to Boston, according to its president and board chairman.

In a letter to the college community posted to the school’s website, President Kevin Quigley and Chairman Richard H. Saudek said the college had taken its first step toward moving to the campus of Emerson College in Boston. Under this scenario, Marlboro College would become the Marlboro Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies at Emerson.

“The decision to partner with Emerson and move to their campus was not easy for anyone, and it comes after years of seeking ways for Marlboro to remain independent on Potash Hill,” the letter states. “The challenges facing small liberal arts colleges are acute and will only intensify in the coming years.”

Both colleges announced the potential merger to their campus communities in town-hall meetings Wednesday morning, an Emerson news release states.

If the plan comes to fruition, Marlboro College will give Emerson its more than $30 million endowment, and real estate holdings that are appraised at more than $10 million, according to the Emerson release.

“The alliance will allow Marlboro to keep its legacy alive through the Marlboro Institute at Emerson College where Marlboro students will complete their degrees and Marlboro tenured and tenure-track faculty will continue to teach,” the release says. “Marlboro will close its campus at the end of the 2019-20 academic year.”

Marlboro College has struggled financially and seen low enrollment in recent years. In March 2018, the Brattleboro Reformer reported that enrollment was about 170 students, down significantly from its peak of 356 students in 2005.

Marlboro College is hardly alone in these trials. Small liberal arts colleges across New England and the country, including Keene State, have 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.

Emerson College has more than 4,400 students between its undergraduate and graduate programs, according to its website.

This isn’t the first time Marlboro College, which was founded in 1946, has looked to a future beyond Vermont’s borders. Earlier this year, it explored merging with the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut.

At the time, the college said it had considered a host of potential partners before moving forward with the Connecticut university.

As described on Marlboro’s website during the summer, the merger would have given students from both institutions access to programs and facilities on the two campuses. By mid-September, however, the plan had been abandoned, with Marlboro citing “insurmountable barriers to developing a compelling financial and academic model that supported both institutional missions.”