Virginia Intermont College says merger collapses, raising questions about its future

A struggling liberal arts college in southwestern Virginia said Tuesday its plan to merge with a larger university in Florida has collapsed.

Virginia Intermont College, in Bristol near the Tennessee border, reported 378 students in the fall term — an enrollment decline of 35 percent since 2010. One of many small private colleges that have faced recruiting troubles in recent years, Virginia Intermont had said in January that it intended to join forces with Webber International University, based in Babson Park, Fla. A memorandum of understanding had called for the merger to take effect in July.

But Virginia Intermont said in a statement that the two schools concluded they did not have a “viable model” for merging.

“This deeply saddens the administration and the boards of each school, as we have very high regard for one another and we both strongly believe in Webber’s goal of uniting small colleges in order to preserve their identities,” the statement said.

The college said it planned to complete the spring semester and offer a summer session that ends June 27. Beyond then, there are questions.

“In the coming days we will take care of our students, address the needs of our employees, continue to work on our financial situation, and communicate with our partners and vendors,” the college said. “We ask for the space and time to do this important work. That is especially critical for our students. Therefore no interviews will be granted at this time.”

Virginia Intermont, founded in 1884 as Southwest Virginia Institute, touts its equine programs and liberal arts curriculum. Tuition and fees are listed as $24,542 for this school year, not counting room and board.

St. Paul’s College, a private institution in Lawrenceville, Va., announced its closure last year amid declining enrollment and financial struggles.

Nick Anderson covers higher education for The Washington Post. He has been a writer and editor at The Post since 2005.
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