Vermont Public Radio reported that the college, which had been on probation with its accreditor, New England Association of Schools and Colleges, was forced to close after its line of credit was shut off due to a massive debt load—much of it from Jane’s decision to purchase 32 acres of lakefront property for millions of dollars from the local Catholic Diocese.
According to a February report from Politico, Jane’s decision was driven by a desire to improve and renovate the campus, hoping that by increasing the size of the student body and attracting alumni donations, the investment would pay for itself. That gamble didn’t work out, however, and Sanders resigned in 2011 (with a reported $200,000 severance package), leaving the school’s financial problems to her successors. By the time that Burlington sold the land in 2015, the school was $11.4 million in debt—despite increasing the cost of tuition over the past several years in order to pay for the campus expansion.
“We have explored multiple, multiple options,” college president Carol Mooretold Politico Monday. “This is a great loss to the higher-ed community, so we did explore many other options. But in the final analysis, none of them came through.”
The financial failure of Burlington College presents a jarring contrast with the upbeat, optimistic message of the Sanders campaign, which has made free college tuition a centerpiece of the Vermont senator’s progressive platform. While Sanders has inspired millions of young supporters with his promise to eliminate college debt, his wife’s decision to hike tuition in order to pay for a costly campus expansion—a big factor in the rise of college tuition throughout the country—casts Bernie’s hopeful policy proposals in a more complicated light.