Kaitlin Jenkins has a lot to live up to as she will be the last education major to graduate in May from College of St. Joseph, which started as a teacher’s college.
Unlike some of the other students at CSJ, she doesn’t need to find a school to which she can transfer. But after four years, she has sentimental attachments.
“I’ve lived here for four years, so I’ve definitely had a lot of good relationships with the faculty and staff and the other students,” she said.
CSJ officials were notified in December that the New England Commission of Higher Education would remove the school’s accreditation in August. Led by Jennifer Scott, CSJ’s president, college staff members began preparing to offer evidence to NECHE of CSJ’s financial stability.
The loss of accreditation was based only on CSJ’s financial viability and not because of any deficiency in its educational programs.
CSJ tentatively identified a partner institution but when that arrangement fell through, college officials announced the school would close at the end of the current semester.
“I think it’s really sad because this place has a lot of good things that people don’t necessarily know about, like our dedicated staff. The further you dig into CSJ, the more wonderful, small things you find out about it,” Jenkins said.
She said when she heard CSJ was facing the loss of its accreditation, she assumed the college would close, but after hearing about Scott’s efforts, she became a little more optimistic that CSJ could be saved.
“I’m just grateful for the time I had here and grateful that I was able to get through the four years. I learned a lot while I was here and made a lot of great relationships. I don’t think I would change anything,” she said.
Like Jenkins, many students on campus Friday were calm, if disappointed, about the loss of the college they attend.
“I’m disappointed that the school is closing, but they’ve been pretty straightforward with us, telling us what was going on and what the plans were,” said freshman business major Laurence Christopher Chadderton.
While Chadderton said CSJ officials told students they were trying to keep the school open, after the announcement that CSJ would not continue after the current semester, department heads have been working with students to help them continue their education.
Chadderton, who is from Cabot, plans to transfer to Vermont Technical College to study automotive diesel technology.
Grace Hatin and Olivia LaVictoire-Pierce, who are both studying radiologic science, said they don’t think the college’s closure will cause a major disruption to their education. Both plan to go to Vermont Technical College and expect to graduate in 2021.
Hatin said it was difficult to hear the news that CSJ couldn’t continue.
“I think it was heartbreaking. We all really like it here. It’s always difficult to really accept the fact that we’re leaving,” Hatin said.
LaVictoire-Pierce said she had experienced something similar before. In April 2018, CSJ officials announced the school may have to close because of financial difficulties. Students filled several meetings to express their support for saving CSJ and LaVictoire-Pierce said there were a lot of rumors that made it hard to know what was really happening.
“It was very stressful (last year) but this year it’s kind of a relief that it is closing, and it’s over with but it is heartbreaking,” she said.
Jenkins said the problems in 2018 were still being felt a year later. In her first three years, Jenkins played softball but this year there was no team because there weren’t enough players, and there was no coach.
Hatin said she was optimistic that she would leave the experience behind her.
“I think it’s just kind of like a rut in the road. It’s something that happens that’s getting to be pretty common that small, private colleges are going under,” she said.
Hatin and LaVictoire-Pierce said they didn’t have friends whose colleges closed while they were students there, but LaVictoire-Pierce said she knew some students who transferred to Southern Vermont College last year when CSJ’s financial issues came to light.
Southern Vermont College in Bennington and Green Mountain College in Poultney also announced recently they would close at the end of their current semesters.
Anthony Williams said he came to CSJ from New York to play basketball and enroll in business courses.
“I was very shocked. It was very unfortunate. I was told that the school would do everything in its power to keep it going. Unfortunately, they couldn’t, so it’s just time to move forward,” he said.
Williams said he and his coaches were trying to figure out what schools to go to next.