College of St. Joseph campus in Rutland. College website

[T]he College of St. Joseph has two years to shore up its financial resources before it loses its accreditation.

The New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which accredits the small, private Rutland college, announced its decision to place the school on probation on Wednesday.

“Though disappointing news, this should not come as a surprise to anyone, given how open we have been about our financial struggles,” CSJ President Jennifer Scott said in a prepared statement. She did not respond to an interview request.

Facing dwindling enrollment, the school has been struggling for years to make ends meet and earlier this year openly considered closing altogether. CSJ’s trustees rallied in May, voting to keep the school open and endorsing a plan to raise revenues by opening a child care center, using incentives to encourage new enrollment, and marketing the college’s campus for events.

In a statement released Wednesday, the college said it would double-down on its efforts to cut spending, increase enrollment, solicit local philanthropic and business support, and fundraise. It announced the launch of a two-year endowment campaign called “ASCEND: The Campaign for CSJ” with a goal of raising $3.5 million by June 2020.

College of St. Joseph President Jennifer Scott. College website

The college has also recently announced new majors, tuition discounts, the state’s first traumatology program, and options for completing bachelor’s degrees in three years.

The Commission on Institutions of Higher Education at NEASC voted on June 28 that the college did not meet its standard on institutional resources, and made its decision public this week. NEASC placed CSJ on a two-year probation specifically because of money; it did not cite the college for academic quality.

The school remains accredited while it is on probation and able to receive federal funds, including federal student aid. The probation process will involve continued monitoring, and CSJ is scheduled to present to the commission this November about its progress.

“Although we’re still in the process, we certainly have a great deal of energy, a great deal of enthusiasm, people working hard to do this, and a real firm belief in the future of the college,” said A. Jay Kenlan, the chair of CSJ’s board of trustees.

Financial problems came to a head at CSJ when it depleted its endowment to invest heavily in a new physician assistant’s program that ultimately didn’t open after failing to get accredited. But like small schools across the Northeast, it has also faced a longstanding problem of declining enrollment as the region steadily loses young people.

CSJ is the only Vermont college currently on probation by NEASC. But in 2016, the agency de-accredited Burlington College, which subsequently closed, following a two-year probation, also because of financial woes. Mount Ida College, a small private college in Newton, Massachusetts, abruptly closed this May, and two other New England colleges were asked by NEASC this spring to “show cause” – a process by which a school argues against being placed on probation. Vermont Law School this July revoked tenure for three-fourths of its tenured faculty members in a bid to cut spending.

“New England has a significant number of small institutions, some of which are financially fragile. As in the past, I anticipate a significant number of small institutions will explore mergers, and as in the past, some may decide to close,” said Barbara Brittingham, the president of the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education at NEASC.

VTDigger's political reporter.