POULTNEY — Though Green Mountain College will not reopen this fall, GMC President Bob Allen said faculty and staff members are being taken care of.
The school administration was unable to secure a merger agreement with another college, but students will have options.
Allen said the college is working with nine schools to secure matriculation agreements: Castleton University, Chatham University, Prescott College, Alaska Pacific University, College of the Atlantic, Unity College, Sterling College, Paul Smith’s College and Marlboro College.
Though Green Mountain College has a requirement that students need to be on campus for the last 30 credits of their degree in order to graduate, every institution GMC is working with has relaxed requirements to help GMC students, Allen said.
“We had a couple withdraw today, that’s no surprise,” Allen said. “Our students will be fine.”
As students left the Jan. 23 meeting in Ackley Auditorium at which the closure was announced, they were each handed a packet listing each of the majors at GMC and which colleges and universities can provide transfer credits for them.
GMC has 32 undergraduate programs and four online master’s degree programs, most of which will transfer over into the corresponding programs at colleges in the teach-out agreement, taking into account the students’ financial packages, credits and majors.
GMC will host a college fair Feb. 6, and has scheduled another for Feb. 13, Allen said.
“We’ll probably do it in the gym,” Allen said. “That’s the only place we can accommodate a large group like that.”
After the announcement on Jan. 23, Provost Tom Maus-Pugh encouraged students to pursue their future education wherever they felt they wanted to go, and said they were not bound by the teach-out agreements organized by GMC.
“You can go wherever you want,” Maus-Pugh said.
The primary option, Allen said, was fellow Eco-League consortium member Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona, which has agreed to create an institute or school of sustainability specifically for GMC students.
“Very similar mission to Green Mountain College,” Allen said. “Very similar size, very different climate — I think it was 60 in Prescott today, and not 4 below.”
“We are definitely committed to maintaining some kind of program or center,” said Sturgis Robinson, director of Institutional Advancement and Alumni Relations.
Prescott currently has around 275 undergraduate students on campus, and around 400 in total, Robinson said.
Most of the programs are translatable to programs at Castleton University, and President Dr. Karen Scolforo said in a statement that the staff and faculty aimed to help students transition to Castleton as seamless as possible, if they should choose it.
“It is our intention to help as many students as possible fulfill their goals and complete their degree requirements without leaving Vermont,” Scolforo said. “We are saddened to see Green Mountain College close its doors, and our hearts go out to all of the impacted faculty, staff and students. By making this opportunity affordable and accessible for the students, we can help them remain on track and offer a measure of hope.”
Robinson said Prescott is especially well-suited to welcome GMC students given its own history as the “College that Wouldn’t Die.” In 1975, when Robinson was in his senior year, Prescott College went bankrupt.
“I grabbed my diploma and left,” Robinson said. “But a number of students and faculty refused to let the college die.”
Reading excerpts from “Uncommon Education: The History and Philosophy of Prescott College,” by former faculty member Samuel Nyal Henrie, Robinson said Prescott College opened in 1966, but all of the construction was built on debt.
“That was an era of double-digit interest rate,” Robinson said. “You could get a 15 percent interest on your checking account ... if you were in debt, you were paying enormous loads.”
Robinson said the creditors gave the students and staff 24 hours to leave the campus, and sold the campus to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.
“(For some students) second semester tuitions had been absorbed into the bankruptcy,” Robinson said.
But a small group of students and faculty, unwilling to give up on the school, decided to continue courses anyway, and rented the derelict Hassayampa Inn, where in many cases, they didn’t charge tuition.
“They called it Prescott Center College,” Robinson said. “It opened in the basement room — it was closed for business at the time — and rented it to the college $120 per month for the whole thing.”
Robinson said in the fall of 1975, 54 students remained at the Prescott Center College, and they slowly built their beloved school back.
“We have an urban reused campus, built some new dorms, a conference center — we have a library,” Robinson said. “There was a period years ago where we were known as the college that wouldn’t die.
One of the reasons Prescott College is moving along ... is because we have that experience, and we run very lean. We maintain a very large cash reserve, we always have our finger in the wind.”
When asked whether he thought what happened at Prescott could happen at GMC, Robinson said times have changed, and cost would be a more significant issue.
“Certainly, the kind of student who goes to GMC would be the kind of student who wouldn’t hesitate to embark on that kind of adventure,” Robinson said.
Harinarayan Grandy, GMC Class of 2008, said when she heard the news that GMC would be closing its doors, she felt as if she was losing a loved one.
“The grief was real and tangible, not only for myself and for the special place I would lose forever, but for the world,” she said. “GMC is a sacred place, where old, venerated ideas about stewardship and respect for the natural world meet fresh ideas about how to handle climate change, and how to live in the modern world with few resources and a small footprint.”
“We’re still working on figuring out what direction to run in next, but I’m continually inspired by the mission of the college, the students and by the energy the alumni have,” said former community organizer and GMC alumna Kirsten Kelley. “Green Mountain people are a tough bunch to organize because we’re fiercely independent and focused on big dreams, but that’s also what allows us to accomplish great things, so I have faith in that.”
While the partial government shutdown ended Friday, those who rely on federal funds for housing and meals aren’t necessarily breathing easy.
Sandri Shaw, a single mother and lifelong resident of Rutland, said Wednesday that the possibility of losing the 3SquaresVT and Reach Up benefits she relies on to house and feed herself and young son has always been in the back of her mind, but the partial shutdown brought that anxiety to the forefront.
On Dec. 22, many parts of the federal government shut down after President Donald Trump refused to sign a spending bill because it didn’t contain $5.7 billion for a wall along the southern border between the United States and Mexico. On Friday, Trump signed an agreement that will keep the government running until at least Feb. 15.
Shaw said that to qualify for 3SquaresVT benefits, she needs to do 20 hours per week of community service. Since September she’s been putting in hours at BROC Community Action on Union Street where she works in the food pantry and helps people compose résumés.
She said she lives in a subsidized housing unit that would normally cost $856 per month, but she’s responsible for $150. Up until four years ago, she’d worked at a nursing home helping dementia patients with daily needs. The birth of her son was a difficult one that required her to stay in the hospital for several weeks, she said. She wasn’t able to go back to work afterward. Two years ago, she found a job at a local sandwich shop, but her health issues prevented her from holding that position.
“I have really bad anxiety. ... I’m getting better by being here where I work with lots of people, and it raises my spirits up,” she said. “When I signed up for Reach Up, I needed a lot of mental support, psychiatric support. I’ve just had a long, rough road.”
She said she wants to get into the nursing field, but she lacks a high school diploma, and getting a general education diploma has also been difficult, as her son’s health issues have kept her from attending classes.
When news broke that February 3SquaresVT benefits were being issued early, on Jan. 20, with the understanding there would be no March benefits should the government not reopen, it was worrisome news for Shaw.
“I knew they were taking it away from us because they didn’t have enough funds to go into March, that was my assumption,” she said. “When I first heard about it, I was kind of in a panic.”
She said she knows other people using 3SquaresVT who had more cause to worry than she does.
“At first, I was scared but at the same time it gave me the (notion) that I don’t want to be on welfare my whole entire life, and I don’t want to have 3SquaresVT, but taking care of two people off one income when you’re doing it by yourself, it does get to be a burden and there’s times where I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh, they did this to us now.’
Even though February benefits came early, getting through the month was still a concern, as is any month.
“We can try to save and budget whatever we want but stuff just gets more expensive every day,” she said.
Funding for 3SquaresVT comes from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It’s administered by the Vermont Department of Children and Families, but the nonprofit Hunger Free Vermont does education and outreach for it.
Anore Horton, executive director of Hunger Free Vermont, said if the government shuts down again after Feb. 15, the news won’t be good for people who need 3SquaresVT benefits come March. Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) benefits will run out, too.
“It’s impossible for the state of Vermont to cover the cost of federal programs for even one month,” she said. On its own, 3SquaresVT moves $8.5 million per month in Vermont, she said. That’s not counting school meals, which almost half of Vermont’s school children qualify for, or heating assistance.
Workers in need
During the partial shutdown, 800,000 federal employees across the country were furloughed or required to work without pay, the latter with the understanding they’d be paid when the government reopened. As the partial shutdown came to be measured in weeks, many agencies turned attention toward federal workers who might need assistance.
Tom Donahue, CEO of BROC-Community Action in Southwestern Vermont, said despite news of the shutdown ending Friday, the group went ahead and opened Saturday for a special event geared towards federal employees in need.
He said only one family came in, but they availed themselves of the food pantry as well as heating and electric-bill assistance programs BROC administers.
Donahue said he suspects the low-turnout was due to Friday’s announcement, but his group is prepared to be proactive in the event of another shutdown. It’s working to raise more funds to help people in crisis who don’t meet the criteria for public assistance.
Heritage Family Credit Union had offered loans at special rates to its members who were also furloughed federal workers, said Carrie Allen, senior vice president of marketing and business development at Heritage Family Credit Union in Rutland. She said only three people took out such a loan, but that was expected, as the credit union doesn’t have a large number of federal workers as members.
Allen said the credit union often does such things when it thinks a fair number of its members might need it, as in the case of the Rutland Plywood fire in 2014 that put 170 out of work.
With the fear that 3SquaresVT benefits might be in jeopardy, and that furloughed federal workers might turn to food pantries for immediate needs, nonprofits began talking with each other on how to meet those needs, said Sue Minter, executive director of Capstone Community Action, based in Barre.
Capstone runs a food pantry and administers other assistance programs, similar to what BROC does in Rutland County.
Minter said Capstone and other groups in Washington County began to realize the severity of the problem for federal workers as the shutdown dragged on. She said the groups laid the groundwork for coming together quickly in the future should they have to. She said Capstone doesn’t have figures for how many furloughed federal workers sought assistance, but she doesn’t think it was many. Many did contact the group to learn what was available, she said.
The Vermont Foodbank, which supplies food to many of Vermont’s pantries and shelves, plans to move forward with its special day for furloughed federal workers.
“Just because the government is reopened doesn’t mean the economic effects aren’t still being felt,” said Nicole Whalen, of the Vermont Foodbank.
The Vermont Foodbank estimates more than 1,300 federal workers in Vermont were affected by the shutdown. The group has invited federal employees who were affected by the partial shutdown to its food distribution sites in Swanton, South Burlington, Derby and St. Johnsbury on Saturday. Federal employees are asked to bring their federal IDs and furlough letters.
The times and locations are:
Swanton Church of the Nativity parking lot, 65 Canada St., 9 to 10 a.m.
University Mall parking lot between Sears and Hannaford, 155 Dorset St., noon to 1:30 p.m.
Derby Elks Lodge parking lot, 3736 U.S. Route 5, 9 to 10 a.m.
St. Johnsbury School back parking lot, 257 Western Ave., 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Those who can’t make it are welcome to use the Vermont Foodbank’s website to find a local food shelf, www.vtfoodbank.org/agency-locator or visit a Vermont Foodbank distribution center.
The centers are at the following locations.
— Barre, 33 Parker Road, open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
— Brattleboro, 22 Browne Court, open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visitors are asked to go through the parking lot to the rear, left side of the building.
— Rutland, 92 Park St., open Monday and Wednesday from 9 a.m to noon. People can call if they need a different pick-up day or time. Call 747-9025.
However they do it, organizers of the regional marketing campaign plan to do a lot of talking to the public in year three of the effort.
“One of the real important things that came out of our conversation ... is public relations, or PR, has to be a part of this,” Mary Cohen, executive director of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday during a meeting with the city’s Marketing Committee. “Going forward, that has to be on our plate.”
Cohen said recent announcements about positive changes in the real estate market and crime rate were examples of what the group wanted to do more of. Alderman Chris Ettori, the committee chairman, said he thought the Marketing Committee could help figure out “more strategic ways” of putting out such information.
“In particular, I don’t think we do a good job of letting people know what the city is doing,” he said.
Cohen said organizers of the campaign, which is being run jointly by the chamber and the Rutland Economic Development Corp., have discussed the multi-year effort’s future since the announcement late last year that the advertising firm they were working with, Mondo Mediaworks, was pulling out of its contract early. Mayor David Allaire said the loss of Mondo did not seem to hurt the project’s momentum and that it was good that organizers were communicating with the public.
“This is very difficult to quantify,” he said. “Somebody is going to say, ‘How many people have moved here?’ It’s a 10-year plan.”
Allaire said he thought the news regarding the real estate market and crime rate were a good start to the PR efforts.
“That tells another component of the story we’re trying to tell,” he said. “We did that all in-house and it didn’t cost anything.”
Cohen said they are discussing whether they want to hire one firm to manage the entire campaign or multiple niche firms to handle different parts of it. She said some of the companies that responded to the initial request for proposals had reached out since the Mondo announcement, and that they were working on a one-page “mini-RFP.” She said organizers are also working on more fundraising.
“We raised $38,000 from municipalities last year,” she said. “This year we’re anticipating a little bit more. ... We are obviously engaging the business community again.”
Cohen said organizers have asked participating municipalities for $1 per person in town. With the city, she said, they have rounded that up to $16,000. The committee voted unanimously to recommend the Board of Aldermen allocate that amount from the Zamias Fund.
Cohen said the campaign is seeking to build on the success of the Stay to Stay program, in which specific weekends are scheduled during which out-of-town visitors are matched with locals who can tell them about employment, cultural and other opportunities in the region, by adding a similarly organized “Ski to Stay” program.
“We’re lucky in that we have a lot of advocates,” she said. “I don’t want to use the word ‘formalizing,’ but we are making sure the network is strong.”