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As Crisis Fades, Burlington College Looks To The Future

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Taylor Dobbs
/
VPR
Burlington College President Carol Moore, the former president of Lyndon State College who assumed the post in February, says despite the school's ongoing challenges, she's confident in its future.

Burlington College has spent much of the past year in a state of existential crisis, but after a major land sale was executed by interim president Mike Smith, the small school’s new president says she’s confident in the future.

“I’m confident that those students that started in the midst of the turmoil in 2014 will get a diploma,” says Carol Moore, the former Lyndon State College President who started at Burlington College in February. “I may not be here to hand them a diploma, but there will be a president in this office to hand those groups of young people their diploma from Burlington College.”

Moore’s corner office on the second floor of Burlington College’s building on North Avenue in Burlington overlooks the land – 27 acres of lightly-wooded, undeveloped lakeside property – that saved the small liberal arts college. In an effort to reduce the college’s crippling debt, interim President Mike Smith sold the land to Burlington developer Eric Farrell for $7.5 million.

The situation Moore inherits is much calmer than the one Smith entered in the fall when he took over for Christine Plunkett, who resigned as students surrounded her car in a confrontation about the school’s future. Still, Moore has challenges ahead.

“Our next big challenge, really, is to bring in the fall class,” Moore says. After last year’s financial troubles and the bad press that surrounded Plunkett’s resignation, Moore’s task is to do nothing short of “rebuild the college.” That involves a mix of replenishing the financial reserves that fell to virtually nothing last year and assuring students, faculty, staff and prospective students that things really are OK at the school.

“That will be a significant challenge,” she says, “given all of the publicity that came with the fiscal challenges, and the sort of negative PR and word-of-mouth kind of thing that the college was on the verge of closing. It’s not on the verge of closing at this moment in time.”

Part of that effort, she says, is inviting the media to cover the progress the college has made. This spring, Moore says, the college is operating on a balanced budget. Moore has hosted guidance counselors from local schools and across the country to try to plant Burlington College in their minds as a place to recommend to students.

Moore says proudly that one guidance counselor, who visited recently, sent in an application for her son shortly after the visit.

“So we’re moving forward, and if we can get the word out, then we have quality education for the right student,” she says.

The right student is a moving target for Burlington College. Formerly made up of a majority of Vermont-based students, the school now has mostly students from out of state. Other than that, though, Moore says, it’s hard to know exactly who is a prime candidate for Burlington College, or which other colleges BC has to compete against for students. That’s something Moore hopes to work on.

“I have to be honest,” she says. “The college has not been very data-driven in the past. That will change. We are going to be data-driven.”

Moore says she also hopes to grow the college’s financial reserves and, when that’s done, expand its academic programs. She hopes to grow the student body from just over 200 to 300 and add more online resources that could make Burlington College more accessible to students across the region.

Moore still has to guide the college out of the financial probation it was placed on by the regional accreditation body last year, but in many ways her job is nothing like the one Smith inherited last fall. At that time, it wasn’t clear if there would be a graduation ceremony – or a Burlington College – come spring. Now, Moore worries about things such as recruitment and the quality of academic programs.

“This semester has gone very well for students,” she said. “We have a little bit larger-than-normal graduation this year, and that’s really going to be a celebration not only of student accomplishments, but of the rejuvenation of the college, and moving forward.”

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