Small colleges with religious affiliations are also under strong pressure. Among the 10 colleges that will close this year, five have religious ties. College of New Rochelle, Marygrove College, St. Joseph School of Nursing, and the College of St. Joseph are all Catholic institutions. Cincinnati Christian University, which will close next month, has Protestant ties.
Marlboro College, a tiny school with only 150 students, is one of the Vermont institutions that is closing this year. Marlboro transferred its $30 million endowment fund and $10 million worth of real estate to Emerson College, a Boston institution with about 4,500 students. In return, Emerson has agreed to accept Marlboro's students and all 27 of its tenured and tenure-track faculty.
As Lee Pelton, Emerson's president made clear, the transaction is not a merger. After next fall, Pelton said, "Marlboro will not exist."
Marlboro president, Kevin F. F. Quigley, said that Marlboro had "reached out" to a number of colleges before it did its deal with Emerson, but the other schools were not willing to employ Marlboro's faculty.
I took a quick look at Marlboro's faculty bios, and I was impressed. Many of the Marlboro professors are young and most have doctorates from prestigious institutions.
I was also impressed that Marlboro executed a plan that will allow the school to close with dignity while preserving the jobs of its tenured and tenure-track faculty. In essence, Marlboro turned over assets worth $40 million to a college that is willing to employ its professors.
In my view, Marlboro's closure is a model for other struggling liberal arts colleges. Most of them have declining enrollments and dwindling revenues. But many--like Marlboro--have significant endowment funds and own valuable real estate. What should a college do with those assets when it shuts down?
I can think of no better way for a dying college to divest itself of its material wealth than to devote it to the welfare of its tenured and tenure-track professors, many of whom have devoted a substantial part of their working lives to an institution that closes while they are in mid-career.
In this economic climate, even highly acclaimed tenured faculty members will have trouble finding comparable tenured positions if their college shuts down. Marlboro and Emerson performed a civic act when they worked out a deal to save 27 jobs and put Marlboro's real estate and endowment funds to good use.