Home News and Features Facing ‘Financial Insolvency,’ Goddard College to Close After 86 Years

Facing ‘Financial Insolvency,’ Goddard College to Close After 86 Years

Photo by Glenn Russell/VTdigger
The Plainfield progressive higher education institution was founded in 1938. It will shutter at the end of this semester, its board announced Tuesday.

By Peter D’Auria

Goddard College will close its doors later this year, the board of trustees of the Plainfield progressive higher education institution announced Tuesday.

The board voted unanimously to shutter the school, it said in a press release, citing “a significant and persistent decline in enrollment” that caused it to face “financial insolvency.” Goddard currently serves 220 students, the board said, down from 1,900 in the early 1970s.

Trustees made the decision late last week, after finalizing enrollment numbers for the college’s spring semester, Dan Hocoy, president of Goddard College, said in an interview. 

“The board really had no choice,” he said. “It was the only responsible decision. We could not continue with just 200-some students.”

In Tuesday’s announcement, the board said the school would establish a scholarship fund to help current students transfer to Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona, as well as other potential partner institutions. Students will be able to continue their studies at Prescott at their current tuition rate, according to the announcement.

The school’s closure will result in the elimination of roughly 90 jobs, according to Hocoy. 

“The closure of Goddard College is a significant loss for students in search of an alternative, progressive higher education,” Mark Jones, the board’s chair, said in Tuesday’s press release. “The decision to close Goddard College was not made easily or quickly. With declining enrollment and financial insolvency looming, the Board was left with no other option. Our hearts are broken.”

Founded in 1938, Goddard carved out a reputation as a bastion of experimental, radical learning, where students could pursue self-directed, interdisciplinary paths of study.

The college boasts a number of high-profile names among its alumni: playwright David Mamet, actor William H. Macy, novelist Walter Mosley, educator Jane O’Meara Sanders and several members of the rock band Phish.

But the college struggled for decades to find a sustainable path forward amid a long slide in enrollment — a challenge with which small colleges and universities across the country are grappling.  

In Vermont, four small colleges — Poultney’s Green Mountain College, Bennington’s Southern Vermont College, The College of St. Joseph in Rutland, and Marlboro College in Marlboro — have shut their doors in the past five years. Another, Montpelier’s Vermont College of Fine Arts, has managed to survive, in a way, by ending on-campus programming, entering into partnerships with other colleges around the country and shedding real estate.

Over the past several years, Goddard made multiple attempts to find its financial footing. College leaders tried to broaden outreach and appeal to prospective students, Hocoy said. Administrators rented out space on its campus to Cabot Creamery, the radio station WGDR, the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism, and the private Maplehill School, as well as for private events. The college converted the dining hall into a for-profit restaurant, the Goddard Cafe, and announced in January that it would move to online-only education.

But, Hocoy said, those steps were simply not enough. 

“The board and I have exhausted every option possible,” he said.

Hocoy said he informed the Plainfield Selectboard of the closure earlier Tuesday. Selectboard members could not immediately be reached for comment. 

In a written statement, Gov. Phil Scott said the news was “concerning,” for the school community and the broader Plainfield community. “The Department of Labor will be reaching out to offer resources to impacted employees, and the state will engage with Goddard and potential partners to help figure out how to make the best use of the facilities and grounds in the future,” Scott said. 

In its press release, the board said it was committed to helping faculty and staff find new jobs — at Prescott, Cabot Creamery and elsewhere. 

Patrick Burke, president of UAW 2322, which represents faculty and staff at Goddard and other schools and universities around the Northeast, said that college employees first learned about the closure when it was announced publicly. 

“We’re all shocked,” he said. “People are very upset, very angry. There’s just been a complete lack of transparency and, really, a complete violation of what Goddard stands for by the current president and the board leadership.”

Tuesday’s press release said that Goddard will close after the spring semester. But Hocoy said that the college will still offer a final summer semester, which will end in mid-August.

The trustees are currently looking to sell the 117-acre campus, Hocoy said. 

“They’re entertaining all proposals, ideas and conversations currently about property,” he said. “I think the general view is to find a solution that benefits our community.”

On social media and in interviews, Goddard alumni expressed shock and dismay at news of the closure. 

“It’s terrible,” John Ollom, who received an MFA in interdisciplinary arts at Goddard in 2014, said in an interview. “I’ve been talking to people all day. They’re crying, so upset.”

Ollom, a New York-based artist and dancer, said that Goddard’s self-directed, interdisciplinary learning format fostered a haven for creative thinkers and artists. 

“It’s not just, you’re going to study English, you’re going to study dance, you’re going to study the technique of something,” Ollom said. “They let you cross different disciplines and kind of apply those and make those your own.”

To lose that, he said, was “devastating.”

Elle Oille-Stanforth, who received a bachelor’s at Goddard in 2020 and a master’s in 2022, said the college was a place where students felt accepted and where mistakes were forgiven. 

Oille-Stanforth said she realized that the end was near when Goddard announced in January that it was moving all-online. After that announcement, Oille-Stanforth said, she cried alongside other Goddard community members. 

“I cried and said, ‘I am so angry,’” she said. “I am so angry because we didn’t have to be this way. We could have done this differently. This didn’t have to end the way it’s ending.”