Our opinion: And then there were three


It may be true that the closure of small private colleges in Vermont is the leading edge of a market correction — a reckoning for an economic sector that for years somehow survived despite raising its prices well beyond the reach of consumers.

But it still hurts. And even though it was widely expected, the announcement Thursday that College of St. Joseph in Rutland is joining Green Mountain College in Poultney and Southern Vermont College in Bennington among the ranks of the fallen is harsh news indeed for all of Southern Vermont.

That announcement came a few days after Southern Vermont College announced it would not appeal the New England Commission of Higher Education's decision to withdraw its academic accreditation. That decision by SVC all but closed the book on the board of trustees' decision to close. Though some are still bound and determined to save the school, the odds are long indeed.

There was no fault in SVC and its supporters trying one last time to see if there was a way out. This has never been about the value of SVC or its educational offerings, or whether it deserves to survive. Of course it did, and that makes this sad state of affairs all the more discouraging.

Aside from the emotional connections at each school that make these partings all the more difficult, there's a lot of pain to go around.

The disappearance of those three schools represents hundreds of teachers and staff who will have to find other meaningful employment, and might leave the state. They represent millions of dollars in salaries that won't multiply through the local economy, benefiting local businesses and paying for essential state services through taxes.

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The faculty and staff who are losing their jobs are being punched in the gut with the loss of their livelihoods and ability to provide for their families. They might have to leave Vermont at a time we can scarcely afford to say goodbye — not only to their role in the economy, but to their willingness to serve their communities.

They're also losing the students who contributed to these communities. Not just with dollars but with energy and the youthful enthusiasm of those who are still learning to make their way in the world, and have yet to fall prey to the cynicism that sometimes accompanies adulthood.

It's a crisis, by any number of criteria.

Hitting the panic button isn't the solution. It never is. But here in Southern Vermont, there has long been a perception that we are out of sight, out of mind in Montpelier. It would be nice to get some reassurance to the contrary — reassurance that state government understands the impact of these closures on our communities and our economies, and is considering investment, particularly productive re-use of the campuses that respects their current land use patterns and contributes to the economy and the state's educational and social well-being.

Strong leadership — locally and from the Statehouse — is an absolute necessity here.

Finally, this sad situation reminds us that the importance of education should take precedence over dollars and cents. The reality, unfortunately, is that our misguided leaders have given billions in tax breaks to the wealthiest of the wealthy, rather than invest that money in educating and training the workers and leaders this country needs.

Until we figure that out and change course, we are literally stealing from our own futures.


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