College of St. Joseph on the brink of closure
The College of St. Joseph, a small, struggling school in Rutland, Vt., will cease instruction at the end of the spring semester in 2019, regional accreditors announced Thursday.
The New England Commission of Higher Education voted to withdraw the school’s accreditation after putting it on probation last summer. The college president, while not filing a formal appeal, said she was still working to keep the school open.
St. Joseph is one of many small colleges in the region struggling to stay open. The rising cost of tuition has become unaffordable for more families, and the college-going population is on the decline nationwide.
St. Joseph had been on probation since July 31 because of its precarious finances.
The vote to withdraw accreditation came at the November meeting of the accrediting body, which has come under scrutiny this year following the chaotic closure of another small school.
Mount Ida College in Newton announced it would shut down in April with no plan for an orderly closure and just as accreditors were in the process of renewing its accreditation. Since Mount Ida, accreditors have vowed to keep a closer watch on schools and take action sooner to prevent that type of situation from happening again.
Accreditation is key because, without it, a school cannot accept federal financial aid, which is how many students pay for college.
Accreditors place a school on probation when it does not meet one or more of their nine standards for accreditation. St. Joseph did not meet the standard about financial health.
College president Jennifer Scott said Thursday the school does not have the money to file an appeal. Nevertheless, it has until April 2019 to present more evidence to show it is healthy.
Scott said the news comes in the midst of a fund-raising campaign to stabilize and strengthen the school. She said the college believed it had two years to turn around its finances, so the news that accreditation will be withdrawn next year came as a surprise.
“Obviously this gives us a much shorter time frame than the two years we originally thought we had,” Scott said in a statement posted on the school website.
Scott said the school is exploring its options, “with closure at the very bottom of our list.”
“CSJ is not alone in our fight for survival. Small, private colleges are closing across the country at a rate of about 11 a year,” she said. “This is an alarming trend to many of us who share a mission of access, affordability, and equity in higher education. Schools like CSJ are essential to preserving the diversity of choice for all students.”
Students at the College of St. Joseph will be allowed to complete their degrees elsewhere, according to accreditors.
The school has an agreement with nearby Castleton University that would provide support to students and faculty should the school close. Since Mount Ida’s closure, where no such plan was in place, accreditors have been more vigilant in assuring schools are prepared for the worst.