College of St. Joseph may not award degrees anymore, but College President Dr. Jennifer Scott said the school will remain open, just in a different capacity.
“Our board wants to see us work toward re-imagining CSJ, looking at education and economic development for this region and as a whole,” Scott said Thursday. “We’re looking at folks already in the workforce and working with local employers.”
Scott said the school plans to host training and certificate programs for professionals looking to further their expertise in their respective fields, rather than entry-level workforce development — providing education and training relating to participants launching businesses, helping them grow and remain in Vermont.
This summer, in collaboration with Vermont Works Management Co. and Vermont Innovation Commons, the first steps begin: CSJ is conducting a feasibility study to better understand what Rutlanders want from the vacant campus and what sorts of programs would benefit the community.
“We’ll conduct needs assessments, physical assessments, redevelopments that could be necessary,” Scott said. “The hope is the study will inform a business plan.”
“We believe this feasibility study is an important next step for identifying the future role CSJ will play within our community, so it may continue to serve the needs of those individuals looking for educational and developmental opportunities for many years to come,” Matt Levandowski, president and CEO of Heritage Family Credit Union, said in a news release.
Heritage Family Credit Union and Vermont Works Management Co. will provide start-up funds necessary to complete the study, the statement said.
College officials announced in March that after 60 years, CSJ would stop teaching students at the end of the spring semester.
The college’s 90 staff members were informed in December that the accreditation agency, the New England Commission on Higher Education, would withdraw its accreditation by the end of August.
According to the CSJ statement, the college was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rutland. After years of educating their members within the walls of the motherhouse on Convent Avenue, the sisters bought the campus of Rutland Junior College to establish a training center for their young novices. In 1956, a core group of women led by Sister Mary Matthew McDevitt, the first president, formed St. Joseph’s Teacher’s College.
CSJ happens to be in one of Vermont’s 25 designated opportunity zones, where the average median household income hovers around $40,000, with rent prices averaging $856, labeling Rutland a “low-income” community according to 2011-15.
The status makes Rutland eligible for the program, which encourages private investment in everything from real estate to art.
Scott said the public is encouraged to reach out and bring ideas to the table. She said school officials have already heard calls for theater productions and sports camps to utilize the facilities available at the college.
CSJ partners with the Rutland Economic Development Corp., and Executive Director Tyler Richardson said he is constantly seeing a need for workforce training for the many jobs available in Rutland County and throughout Vermont.
Especially now with the ceasing of operations for two of Rutland County’s institutions of higher learning.
“It’s a maintained need over the years,” Richardson said. “Advanced manufacturing, management, you need a lot of skills there. Addressing what our training needs are for our employers is something our organization has been doing all along.”
While REDC will work closely with CSJ as it continues planning how to remake the college, REDC’s presence in the new structure hasn’t been hammered out yet, Richardson said.
“There’s still momentum in the community,” Richardson said of Green Mountain College’s closing and CSJ’s re-purposing. “I believe we will be stronger going forward.”
Not everything will change, though. The new College of St. Joseph will still have Scott leading the charge, Scott said.
“(Right now) we have more questions than we have answers,” Scott said. “We’re getting a feel for what it would take.”