Union Institute & University to leave Montpelier

Union Institute & University, a four-year, liberal arts program, will close its Montpelier campus in mid-June when its long-term lease with the Vermont College of Fine Arts runs out. The university is consolidating its facilities in Vermont and will continue to offer a weekend residency program in Brattleboro.

More students are opting out of low-residency programs and taking online only courses, according to Dr. Ann Stanton, an associate dean of the university. Students are demanding more flexibility, less “seat time,” and a lower cost education.

“For me what’s sad is that physical presence won’t be here anymore,” Stanton said. “Montpelier is so special for students.” The loss of the campus will be “jarring,” she said for students graduating this year.

The school’s Montpelier weekend residency enrollments have declined over the last decade, according to Carolyn Krause, associate vice president of communications for Union Institute. Union has about 30 students in the Montpelier residency program and 80 online students, she said in an email.

About 15 positions in Montpelier will be affected when the program closes next year. Most of these jobs will be moved to Brattleboro or Cincinnati. Three program adviser positions will not be filled. There will be no faculty reductions; instructors will continue to offer online courses and will participate in the Brattleboro weekend option.

The university purchased the Vermont College campus from Norwich University in 2001, then sold it to the Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2007. At this juncture, Union’s Montpelier base consists of one building on the campus.

The university, based in Cincinnati, has six satellite residency programs, including locations in Ohio, California (Sacramento and Los Angeles) and Vermont.

Union Institute and University helped to pioneer the “university without walls” concept. In the late 1960s, the university, which was founded in 1962, began offering long-distance, interdisciplinary learning for non-traditional students as an alternative to full-time residency programs.

Goddard College, which has a similar program, was ahead of UI by a few years, and in 1980, Goddard’s residential BA program and MFA program in writing was bought by Norwich University, which then had a presence on the Vermont College campus. Union Institute bought the Montpelier dorms, classrooms and College Hall in 2001 from Norwich.

Before Union went fully digital in 2005, the school offered correspondence coursework through the U.S. Post.

The non-traditional approach is designed to attract students who might not otherwise pursue a four-year bachelor’s degree program — single moms, caregivers, adults who dropped out of college and are now working full time.

The real innovation was tailoring a low-residency program, Stanton says, to adult students’ individual situations. Union takes a Deweysque approach to education, recognizing that degree-seeking adults “need a way to integrate” life and learning. Independent study is the norm: Students explore what they want to learn before they commit to a course of study and then they choose the faculty they want to work with.

Union has a special relationship with the Community College of Vermont. Students with an associate’s degree from CCV qualify for scholarships and course credits count toward the total course requirements. The Brattleboro location offers a one-year teacher certification program.

Bill Kaplan, a senior vice president with the Vermont College of Fine Arts, says Union’s departure isn’t a surprise. The college has leased much of the space on the campus. Its tenants also include New England Culinary Institute, the state of Vermont, the New School, and Pacem Learning Center. Kaplan says he doesn’t think the college will have any difficulty finding a new tenant and it’s also possible that VCFA may absorb some of the space for its own growing low-residency programs in creative writing and poetry, children’s literature and graphic arts. The college has 380 students and an annual operating budget of more than $10 million.

Clarification: The original story did not explain that Goddard sold its low residency program to Norwich in 1980, which was later bought by Union Institute.

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Anne Galloway

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  • David Gratton

    Union did not promote the Montpelier program the last year or so, only putting the money behind the Brattleboro program. I cannot help to think that was on purpose. This is a huge lose for adult learners in this state.

  • Wendy Lafirira

    I agree with David. After going through Union’s four year B.A. program myself it makes me sad to think it will no longer be. I am all for the on-line option if a person chooses to do so, but to go on campus every month and gain the self confidence, the friendships and the special relationships with the professors and other learners can not be outdone. To go to college as an adult learner is difficult. It was so fantastic and memorable to build a relationship and form a special bond while doing one of the hardest things a you’ve ever done.

  • walter carpenter

    As a graduate of an alternative institution, I would have loved to attend Union for a grad degree or just learning for fun, but the costs were too prohibitive, which is sad. I am sad, though not surprised that they are leaving. I hope someday to be able to take some courses at VCFA, but, who knows if I can, and I hope that VCFA keeps growing.

  • Marty McMahon

    There are some factual errors or they way you put some information gives an incorrect impression. The program was Vermont College ADP. ADP was purchased by Norwich from Goddard in 1980. Vermont College of Norwich ADP ran until Union bought the program in 2001.
    Watching ineptitude undermine a wonderful program these last years has been disheartening.

  • Marty McMahon

    There are some factual errors or they way you put some information gives an incorrect impression. The program was Vermont College ADP. ADP was purchased by Norwich from Goddard in 1980. Vermont College of Norwich ADP ran until Union bought the program in 2001.
    Watching ineptitude undermine a wonderful program these last years has been disheartening. To run as well as it has is a credit to the local staff.

  • Linda Gray

    Union Institute & University also offers graduate degrees (MA, Psych D., PhD. and others) to Vermont students and to students across the nation and world. The graduate programs continue in Vermont.

    The decision the article describes affects one of two Vermont sites in the Vermont BA program. As Anne has noted, the Brattleboro low-residency BA and the online BA program continue to enroll, engage and graduate adult students, many of whom go on to graduate degree programs.

    In addition to the capstone teacher licensure program mentioned in the article, the university also offers a BS program and a BA with teacher licensure.

    The online BA program is modeled on the low-residency program, and creates a community of adult learners who share their process of discovery as well as the results of their independent study in a vigorous online dialogue. This is not a traditional mode of education, but a transformative experience for students and faculty alike.

  • Connie Godin

    I think, and I’m sure they will disagree, that VCFA should use the space and let the Wood Art Gallery move back into College Hall. Dick would want that. (I really don’t know if Dick would want that but I think he would.)

  • Marty McMahon

    The program survived as long as it did through the amazing efforts of local staff and faculty.
    VCFA made the smart move and became independent of Union. They are healthy and will likely grace Montpelier with their vibrant presence for years to come.

  • Linda Fuglestad

    I graduated with my BA from UI&U in Montpelier and it was the richest experience I’d ever had in my life and I am sad to hear that it will be going to just online. I learned as much from my amazing classmates as I did from the exceptional professors I was blessed with during my years at the onsite campus. I am continuing my education with UI&U and value the program very much, but I would not have gotten where I am now without the strong foundation I received in person from all who joined me and taught me in my BA degree on the Montpelier campus. Kudos to the local staff and the wonderful people like Marty McMahon, Ann Stanton, Linda Gray and all my other professors who put their heart and soul into that campus and made it a joy to attend and learn there. I look forward to finishing my MA degree in CMHC at the Brattleboro site but my heart learned to have wings in the program that is now closing and I will sadly miss it and feel a loss for those who will now never get to experience all it had to offer.