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What’s Next For Marlboro

Letter from the Board of Trustees

To the Marlboro Community:

Our communication circulated in December caused some confusion, and we owe you greater clarity. In addition to responding to Will Wootton’s challenge, we want to share with you how our primary activities, goals, and principles have guided our decisions relating to the future of Marlboro and the proposed affiliation with Emerson College.

First, we want to be clear that we are open to Will Wootton’s challenge, and we look forward to hearing his thoughts. Will has made a generous offer of his time and expertise, and we appreciate his understanding of the risks small colleges are currently facing. We will be interested to see his conclusions.

Since our previous letter, we have made public on the Institutional Data page of the Marlboro website all the information Will should need for a full picture of the recent past and current status. The financial statements include breakdowns of costs (e.g. instruction, student services, food service, property maintenance) and income (e.g. tuition, net tuition, contributions, investment income, rental income) as well as information on the endowment and investments. The information posted includes the December 19th letter from our accreditation agency, the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE). Although Will has asked that various senior staff be made available to him, presumably to produce forecasts and sensitivity analyses in response to hypothetical questions, we cannot spare staff to meet that request. Some staff members have recently left the College and have not been replaced, which has put a greater burden on those remaining. If Will, and whomever he consults with, have questions after they have gone over the material, we will make a trustee available to answer those questions.

The trustees, who include alumni, parents, and members of the greater Marlboro and Brattleboro community, share a deep affection for Marlboro and an appreciation for its unique model of education and community governance. Witnessing the lifelong impact of a Marlboro education on its students (ourselves, our children, our colleagues, and friends), has kept us working furiously for the past six years (and more) to find a path forward as a stand-alone institution. Unfortunately, the steep, persistent decline in students willing to come to Marlboro, combined with deep discounts in tuition and fees needed by the students who did come, put us in an untenable financial situation.

Over the past ten years, we have developed and followed two strategic plans to address enrollment, retention, curriculum, and operations. We invested in new marketing, increased our admissions budget, and made possible creative programming like the Renaissance Scholars tuition free program, the Beautiful Minds Challenge, and Marlboro on the Road. We evaluated and employed a variety of cost saving financial models, we found ways to share back office expenditures and staff with other institutions, and we utilized our partnership with the Music Festival to gain much needed new buildings and campus improvements. We sought to right-size where we could without changing the educational fabric of the College. In 2008 we had 38 tenured and tenure-track faculty. We currently have 24 tenured and tenure-track faculty. We firmly believe that cutting faculty positions further would do violence to Marlboro traditions and to our ability to deliver a true, four-year, fully accredited, liberal arts education.

Our primary goal has always been to preserve the unique qualities of Marlboro College – those which we came to refer to as the “Marlboro DNA” – the traditions of independent thought and study, self-reliance, and community governance. In thinking about the future of Marlboro, and whether or not the curricular model itself needed to shift, we asked faculty, with input from students, to re-evaluate and/or redesign the curriculum and they doubled down on their pedagogy, resulting in the Marlboro Promise. With persistent downward trends, it became evident that we didn’t have much financialrunway and relying on a heavy draw from endowment was also not sustainable. After pursuing serious negotiations with several other colleges, we reluctantly concluded that no potential partner could provide the stability necessary to allow the College to function effectively as a four year, fully accredited liberal arts college while remaining on Potash Hill.

Emerson College, while different than Marlboro in many respects, has a small, dynamic liberal arts institute with characteristics similar to our own. Merging with Marlboro, a treasure of the liberal arts, is an opportunity for Emerson to enhance and grow their liberal arts institute; to make something new and exciting that is informed by Marlboro. Emerson will rename its institute after Marlboro, permanently employ every Marlboro tenured and tenure track faculty who chooses to go to Emerson, and accept present Marlboro students with their existing credits at the tuition rate they are paying to Marlboro (Emerson normally charges considerably more). In addition, they agreed to incorporate Marlboro teaching and learning traditions with their own in order to create an exciting pedagogy and identity. These undertakings involve a great deal of planning, coordination, and innovative thinking by the Marlboro and Emerson administrations and faculty/curricular working groups, much of which is already underway.

Many of you have expressed questions and concerns for the Marlboro campus. The Marlboro Campus working group has begun to develop a process for assessing future uses and owners of the campus. The working group, comprising Marlboro alumni, trustees, staff, faculty, students and a representative from the town of Marlboro, is seeking proposals from organizations, businesses, and individuals for endeavors that would benefit the community and make productive use of the Marlboro campus. As this team proceeds, we expect to be able to share more updates with you about their progress.

We want to thank those who have taken the time to write us expressing their opinions, thoughts, and suggestions. It is a measure of the affection you bear for Marlboro that you have written with such strong feeling both in support of and against these plans.

With best wishes,
The Marlboro College Board of Trustees


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