Vermont College of Fine Arts to become wholly owned subsidiary of CalArts

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Dive Brief: 

  •  The California Institute of the Arts will become the parent institution of the Vermont College of Fine Arts under a recent deal reached by the two private nonprofits, VCFA announced Tuesday
  • Under the deal, VCFA will become a wholly owned subsidiary of CalArts. The two institutions will remain academically separate, with their own accreditation, trustee boards, faculty, degree programs and academic standards, a spokesperson for CalArts said on behalf of both institutions. 
  • Like many other small colleges, VCFA has seen enrollment declines over the past few years and has frequently run annual deficits. The institution said it sought to partner with CalArts because of the “extensive and dedicated resources” that it could offer. 

Dive Insight: 

VCFA, a low-residency graduate institution, offers six Master of Fine Arts degrees. Students spend most of their semester studying virtually, except for nine-day residencies held twice a year. 

Meanwhile, CalArts offers more than 70 degree programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level. 

In announcing the deal, VCFA noted that freestanding graduate institutions are rare, especially in the arts. 

“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 college said. 

Although VCFA clocked a revenue surplus of roughly $175,000 in fiscal year 2022, it ran deficits in the six years prior, according to tax documents. Enrollment has also taken a hit, falling from 388 students in fall 2017 to 305 students in fall 2022, a 21.4% decline. 

“Many schools facing similar circumstances have simply closed their doors, but VCFA was too important, too special to be given up on,” the institution said. 

VCFA said it will benefit from CalArts’ campus and facilities, as well as expanded administrative and student support services “that only a larger institution can provide.” CalArts has a significantly larger student body than VCFA, enrolling 1,440 students in fall 2022. 

“CalArts’ esteemed legacy and dedication to innovation make them the perfect partner as we embark on this transformative journey together,” VCFA Interim President Andrew Ramsammy said. 

The deal will shift where VCFA holds its residencies. 

The institution had previously announced it was ending its on-campus residencies in Vermont and moving them to Susquehanna University, in Pennsylvania, and Colorado College. It has also sold most of its buildings, The Bridge reported in January. 

This year’s summer residency, in July, will be held at Colorado College as planned, before the programs move to CalArts in January 2025. 

A spokesperson for CalArts said the new relationship will enable the colleges to gain expertise from one another, broaden their market reach, and create opportunities for students and employees to collaborate. 

CalArts also expects the deal to bring about operational efficiencies through shared services and to help boost enrollment, in part because it provides a permanent location for residencies that is easily accessible by air. 

“The affiliation between our schools will strengthen both institutions and allow us both to continue to broaden the range of academic opportunities and creative collaborations available to artists,” CalArts President Ravi Rajan said in a statement. 

Both institutions also said they share similar missions, including their commitments to equity in arts education. 

CalArts will provide some contracted services to VCFA for a fee, the spokesperson said. 

Under the deal, CalArts’ board will select eight of VCFA’s board members. VCFA’s board will select the remaining seven, according to the spokesperson. CalArts will not see any changes to its own board. 

The colleges expect the deal to be finalized in July. A spokesperson for CalArts said officials are seeking approval from the two institutions’ accreditors and the U.S. Department of Education. It is also pending approval from their boards. 

The agreement was announced only a few months after Ramsammy told Seven Days, a local newspaper, that VCFA was seeking a buyer or partner. 

VCFA told students Tuesday that the deal won’t impact their program costs or the availability of student financial aid. The institution will continue to be accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education and maintain its headquarters in Montpelier, Vermont.  

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