Facing Enrollment Crisis, Vermont College of Fine Arts Strikes Deal with CalArts to Share Campus

Citing an enrollment crisis that threatens to shutter its doors forever, the Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) in Montpelier has forged a partnership with the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Los Angeles that will allow its students to fulfill short-term residencies on the CalArts campus. The collaboration will begin this fall for the next academic year. 

VCFA is a low-residency, graduate-only program, and offers MFAs in writing, visual art, graphic design, and music composition, among other creative fields. The school hosts nine-day on-campus residencies twice a year, in January and the summer, neither of which take place in Montpelier as the college does not have adequate facilities for visual arts candidates. Instead, MFA students use studios at art schools across the country. When the arrangement with CalArts takes effect, Vermont College of Fine Arts will still administer its programs from Montpelier, while its students will use the CalArts campus facilities during their residencies.

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In a statement, VCFA describes it as an “affiliation agreement” with an institution that “is in many respects our peer, in key respects our mirror image, and, importantly, financially strong.” VCFA has stressed that it will not be absorbed into the larger institution, but will maintain its accreditation with the New England Commission of Higher Education, as well as an independent board of trustees, president, academic leadership, and faculty. 

“A free-standing graduate institution in any field is the exception, all the more so in the arts,” VCFA said. “Providing a learning experience of the highest level is expensive, and for an institution that prides itself on serving a diverse population, the challenges of accessibility and affordability have proven monumental.” The second statement cited the lingering financial impact of the “COVID years” that has “only exacerbated” this situation.

Per Inside Higher Ed, the New England Commission of Higher Education currently accredits more than 200 higher education institutions across six states. That number, however, has dwindled in recent decades: 127 institutions have lost their accreditation due to shuttering and mergers, including the New Hampshire Institute of Art, which merged with New England College in 2019; the Art Institute of Boston (merged with Lesley College in 1998); and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (acquired by Tufts University in 2016). 

CalArts, located some 3,000 miles away on the West Coast, meanwhile will benefit from an additional revenue stream. It is a member of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design, with accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.

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