Merger talks off for a northeast college and university

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A Vermont liberal arts college and medium-sized private Connecticut university have called off plans for an outside-the-box partnership between the contrasting institutions.

Marlboro College in southern Vermont announced last week that negotiations for a merger with the University of Bridgeport first announced in July have been suspended ,citing concerns about the “sustainability” of the arrangement. The planned merger would have involved students taking courses on both campuses, which are located 140 miles apart, with Marlboro students also having the chance to complete advanced degrees at UB.

“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 college said in a statement. “The two schools suspended negotiations, citing insurmountable barriers to developing a compelling financial and academic model that supported both institutional missions.”

Marlboro, which was founded in 1946, faces revenue pressure with enrollment dropping to around 150 undergraduate students. UB, which was founded in 1927, faced debt challenges in the early 1990s, but has seen a recent enrollment uptick with 5,434 students enrolled last year.

The Marlboro Board of Trustees is now planning to pursue other partnership opportunities that “will preserve the College’s pedagogy and community while adhering to the College’s mission,” according to the school’s statement. Marlboro’s endowment is $37.6 million, according to the college’s website.

“As the smaller institution, Marlboro College was especially determined to protect the integrity of its rigorous, self-directed academic model and self-governed community,” the school’s statement said. “ 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.”

The pursuit of an education partner by Marlboro comes amid a number of small tuition-dependent New England colleges struggling with similar enrollment and revenue pressures while competing for a shrinking pool of students. Three Vermont colleges have closed thus far in 2019 including College of St. Joseph, Green Mountain College and Southern Vermont College.

Marlboro and UB are not rated by any of the major bond rating agencies.

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