Real estate deal brokered by Bernie Sanders’ wife sinks Vermont college

Real Estate

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ wife made a big-ticket purchase during her tenure as head of a small, private college in Vermont — and, in the end, the institution got burned.

Burlington College, which Jane Sanders ran from 2004 to 2011, will close its doors on May 27 due to financial and accrediting problems, it was announced Monday. The college has about 70 students.

Jane Sanders’ tenure as president of the tiny school in Burlington, Vt., saw it make a bold real estate purchase to replace its cramped quarters: Sanders spearheaded a deal to buy 33 acres along Lake Champlain, in hopes that the scenic property would help the college attract new students and donors. To pay for the prime lakefront land, the college used $10 million in bonds and loans, according to reports by the Burlington Free Press.

But the large expenditure didn’t pan out, Sanders resigned the following year, and her successors could not save the college from financial ruin.

When asked at a press conference Monday afternoon whether the land deal was a mistake, college President Carol Moore said: “We can’t Monday-morning quarterback.”

Neither Sanders nor the college has said why she left, but she reportedly got a $200,000 severance package.

And last year, the college sold most of the lakefront property in a desperate bid to stave off its mounting money woes. It kept 6 acres and the main building where classes are held.

The college’s board of trustees voted Friday to close after it was notified that a $1 million line of credit would not be renewed, Moore said. College officials had succeeded in lowering debt on the campus property from more than $11 million to slightly greater than $2.2 million, but the additional line of credit was essential to continue operating said Coralee Holm, the college’s dean of operations and advancement.

“We have explored multiple, multiple options — just about anything we could think of,” Moore said. “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.”

Burlington College, which was established in 1972 and prided itself on creating progressive programs that emphasized individual learning, had accrediting problems to go along with its financial woes, with the latter influencing the former to a significant degree. The college was put on probation two years ago by its accreditor, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. And Burlington College board Chairman Yves Bradley recently said the accreditor notified trustees that it was going to revoke the school’s accreditation in January, according to a report.

The college was also on the Education Department’s list of colleges that are subject to extra scrutiny — known as “heightened cash monitoring” — as recently as March 1, for issues relating to “financial responsibility.”

Bernie Sanders has campaigned heavily on college campuses in his quest for the Democratic nomination for president, and he’s been fueled by his ability to gain the support of young voters. The independent from the Green Mountain State has pushed a sweeping proposal that would reshape higher education by making tuition at public colleges and universities free and lowering rates for new and existing student loans.

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