Marlboro College, University Of Bridgeport Call Off Merger Talks

Sep 16, 2019

A merger plan between Vermont's Marlboro College and University of Bridgeport, in Connecticut, was put on ice Friday. Marlboro College announced on its website that the institutions suspended those negotiations "due to concerns around the sustainability of a merged institution."

The announcement from Marlboro College stated:

"Both institutions worked diligently on a deal that would have seen Marlboro continue to provide its distinctive teaching tradition on its Vermont campus as the Marlboro College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Bridgeport, providing new geographic and programmatic options available to students on both campuses. The two schools suspended negotiations, citing insurmountable barriers to developing a compelling financial and academic model that supported both institutional missions."

The merger plans had been announced back in July. At that time, Marlboro College President Kevin Quigley told VPR that the two schools were looking to finalize a plan by the end of this year and implement it by July 2020.

"I think this news is disappointing and unsettling for all of us," Quigley told VPR on Monday. "But our students have been really remarkable in seeing that this partnership exploration could potentially expand in really important ways, educational opportunity, for them." 

Marlboro's written announcement Friday about the halted talks noted some factors that had been weighed during the merger discussion process:

"As the smaller institution, Marlboro College was especially determined to protect the integrity of its rigorous, self-directed academic model and self-governed community. In addition, Marlboro needed assurances on UB’s enduring commitment to the Vermont campus and guarantees that the wishes of Marlboro’s generous donors, who established the College’s current sizeable endowment, would be maintained."

Marlboro College expressed appreciation Friday toward University of Bridgeport for its willingness to engage in merger talks. The college also announced its board of trustees will "pursue other options and continue to act in the best interest of students, faculty, and staff to seek a partnership that will preserve the College’s pedagogy and community while adhering to the College’s mission."

In Monday's interview with VPR, Quigley said Marlboro could stay open without a partnership in place.

"We're very fortunate because, relatively speaking, the college has a large endowment and almost no debt," Quigley said. "And so we have the opportunity to be strategic, to be deliberative, to be quite transparent and participatory about the process."

Quigley reiterated that the college has been forthcoming with various stakeholders about issues it has faced, including enrollment numbers and finances.

"We've laid it out — our strategy of trying to do the best we can to make it on our own, to explore partnerships," he said. "And if that doesn't work out, and this is our far least preferred option, is to close but to do it in [an] ethical fashion as humanly possible."

Quigley told VPR that revisiting some of those other proposals received during the initial solicitation of potential partners could be an option, but said he could not comment on who some of those possible partners might be.

The news from Marlboro College comes at a time when many small colleges in New England are struggling financially and competing for a shrinking pool of students. Three Vermont colleges have closed thus far in 2019: College of St. Joseph, Green Mountain College and Southern Vermont College.

Update 4:05 p.m. This post was updated with comment from Quigley.