Marlboro College selling campus to Democracy Builders

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MARLBORO — Marlboro College and Democracy Builders today announced a signed contract for sale of the 500-acre college campus in anticipation of the completion of Marlboro College's alliance with Emerson College.

Democracy Builders will use the campus for a new model of higher education designed to "dramatically reduce costs and improve outcomes" for low-income and first generation students in particular. Upon state Attorney General and Agency of Education approval, Democracy Builders' Degrees of Freedom program will offer a hybrid degree that will bring cohorts of students to the campus for multiple residencies each year and continue the tradition of higher education on Potash Hill.

In preparation for transferring Marlboro's academic program to Emerson College in Boston to create the Marlboro Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies at Emerson College, Marlboro established a special Campus Working Group (CWG) to find a new owner for the Vermont campus. The CWG was composed of faculty, staff, students, a representative from the town of Marlboro, and included several Marlboro alumni. The group vetted multiple offers but most appreciated Democracy Builders' commitment to serving low income and first-generation college students, and admired its civic-minded curriculum, which resonated with Marlboro's community self-governance model.

According to Marlboro Board Chair Dick Saudek, "We have a committed and unified board that enthusiastically embraced the idea of having this novel and forward-looking higher education model on our beloved campus. The entire process, including our proposed alliance with Emerson, will be a remarkable confluence of organizations and cooperation. We believe Democracy Builders will continue Marlboro traditions and bring valuable new jobs and opportunities to the Marlboro community and the State of Vermont."

Windham-1 State Rep. Sara Coffey, who is a Marlboro alumna, former trustee, and co-chair of the college's Campus Working Group said, "With its strong vision and track record for innovation in education and civic engagement, Democracy Builders will continue Marlboro's legacy in attracting young people to Vermont, providing quality jobs in our community, and continuing as a dynamic hub for learning, creativity, and innovation in Southern Vermont. I believe it honors the legacy of Marlboro College and carries it into the future."

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Democracy Builders plans to make full use of Marlboro's campus with its 17 miles of trails, buildings, arts facilities and extensive library.

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Marlboro College President Kevin Quigley said, "I am so pleased that Democracy Builders, with its strong and compelling mission around access and success, will continue a vital educational program, preserve our ecological reserve, allow opportunities for alumni to return to campus, and ensure continued community access to the beautiful network of trails here on Potash Hill." Democracy Builders says it is eager to continue traditions and find new synergies with the Marlboro Music School and Festival who occupy the campus during the summer months and recently invested in two state-of-the-art buildings for the campus currently under construction. Marlboro Music, founded in 1951, is a world-renowned retreat for advanced classical training in which young musicians collaborate and learn alongside master artists in a relaxed and creative environment.

Seth Andrew, founder of Democracy Builders, also founded Democracy Prep, a network of 20-plus high-performing public schools throughout the U.S. Degrees of Freedom and the Freedom College model planned for the Marlboro campus are born out of their work with 10,000 K-12 students and, pending state approval, will create a wholly integrated path to a degree for students from hundreds of similar schools across the nation.

Andrew, who served in the Obama White House as senior advisor in the Executive Office of the President and for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan where he led the Education and Civic Technology portfolios, described this new endeavor as "a more nimble, personalized, and career-targeted model of higher education that aims to yield dramatically better outcomes for our students." He expects that it will "revolutionize the design and structure of college while bringing new energy to the beautiful hills of southern Vermont."

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The Degrees of Freedom model will also continue Marlboro's self-governing tradition through bi-weekly town hall meetings similar to those already in place at Democracy Prep.

"Over the past two decades, we have founded dozens of excellent schools around the world, and launching Degrees of Freedom on the Marlboro College Campus is the next chapter in that remarkable journey. While the global pandemic is a challenge to traditional higher education models, we believe COVID-19 only underscores the dire need for new academic and residential models like DoF," Andrew said.

Prior to signing the contract of sale with Democracy Builders, the Board of Trustees of Marlboro and Emerson Colleges agreed to take the next step in forging a unique alliance, which both institutions expect to be finalized by July 1, subject to review by the Vermont Attorney's General office. This alliance establishes the Marlboro Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies at Emerson College, provides tenure and tenure-track positions for all Marlboro faculty, and enrollment for all interested Marlboro students.

The alliance with Emerson grew from a two-plus year partnership exploration process, started by the Marlboro College Board after a decade of struggle to meet enrollment and financial goals amidst increasing demographic challenges. Both the Emerson alliance and the sale of the campus are subject to approval by the Vermont Attorney General.


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