A Use for Campuses of Closed Colleges: For Real

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In a recent article in Inside Higher Education, it was noted that a purchaser of a closed college campus in New Hampshire thought they were acquiring an operating college; instead, they acquired buildings and a non-operating former academic institution.

We can debate how such an error or misunderstanding occurred. But, it got me thinking about what we can do with all these campuses of small colleges that are being or have been closed.

Here’s my idea (I have many actually and have been reflecting on this for some months) for some of the vacant campuses which have, a fortiori, many vacant beds. What about all the young people who age-out of foster care and/or are homeless? The number is rising. Some of these young people need GEDs and job stills and perhaps too some college credits. This is a group for which admission to traditional four colleges or community colleges is a pipe dream for most.

What if campuses (rural and urban) were opened to these individuals — funded with state, federal and private funds? By partnering, accreditation would not be needed initially by the “home” institution. Teachers/professors/ psychologists/ staff who are trauma trained would be needed. And these campuses would have new life and important role in improving society.

Picture these students learning about and enjoying a rural environment. Imagine them developing academic and psycho-social skills. Consider their being fed in dining halls designed to feed large numbers of students. Imagine them having a dorm room and bathroom with showers. Imagine them having adult mentors who can work with them individually and collectively. Consider the “sending organizations” staying in touch with these new students: visiting, calling, sending packages. Consider the growth in self-esteem, the ability to find stability, structure and success.

And I know an organization who can already identify 200 students in Boston area to participate in such an initiative. VT is not far off as the crow flies. Nor is New Hampshire. Ponder amazing creative stunning uses for campuses of small colleges that got shuttered (sometimes in my view as a result of poor leadership and vision and/or Board failure on many levels). These campuses would be like phoenixes rising from the ashes.

I get that some may want to use these spaces for condos or low income housing. I get that some may want to use the land for real estate development, tearing down existing structures. I get that some want them for intergenerational living or hospice. I get that some want them for work internships related to the environment for students enrolled in college elsewhere. For me, especially when the buildings are on the historic registry and have space and furniture designed for education, why not continue them as educational institutions for young people who need the space and place?

Yes, these would be a different kind of educational institution. Teachers and professors would not be saying “get me better students.” These would be institutions with a clear unabiding mission to give homeless young people an opportunity to find a future. And, we could reflect on other groups that would be well served on such campuses.

The time is now. Any closed college that did this is doing something remarkable. They are educating — in the broadest sense of the word — and enabling student success — also in the broadest sense of the word.

Action. The campuses are there. The need is there. Pair them together. Let’s get going. Time is a ‘wastin.”

Written by

Author, Educator & Commentator; Former President, Southern Vermont College; Former Senior Policy Advisor, US Dept. of Education; Former Law Professor

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