Merger plans collapse for struggling Virginia college

The future of Baptist-affiliated Virginia Intermont College is unclear as administrators prepare “teach out” plan for students.

By Robert Dilday

Plans for Virginia Intermont College to merge with a large Florida university have collapsed, leaving the struggling Baptist-affiliated school “financially distressed,” its president said.

Earlier this year the Bristol, Va., college said it had initiated discussions to merge in July with Webber International University, based in Babson Park. Fla. But Virginia Intermont president Clorisa Phillips announced in a statement April 15 that the two schools “have reached the joint and difficult conclusion that we do not have a viable model for merger.”

VIWithin hours of the announcement, VI’s faculty overwhelmingly voted to declare no confidence in Philllips, the Bristol Herald Courier reported.

Since then the school has launched a “teach out plan,” a legally recognized agreement to allow students to complete their academic programs, typically by transferring to other schools. Administrators also announced they will shut down all sports teams — including VI’s nationally recognized equestrian competition team, which in April won its fourth national championship.

VI’s primary accrediting agency had already placed it on probation because of financial instability, but the agency has agreed to leave the school’s accreditation in place until July 1, which will allow students to complete the current semester and a summer session which concludes June 27.

VI has struggled with financial viability since at least 2007. Last fall the school reported 378 students, a 35 percent enrollment decline since 2010.

In her statement, Phillips said the school’s “financial distress” has been apparent for some time, but “it became significantly worse about two weeks ago due to a slowdown in the receipt of financial aid funds. The past two weeks have been almost unbearably hard for many of us and I am deeply grateful to our staff who have to manage these problems daily.”

She added administrators and trustees “are moving with haste to guarantee accredited options for students. We will also immediately call faculty and staff together to discuss plans for operating over the coming months. Of primary importance is that students, faculty and staff who do not want to deal with uncertainty have very clear information so that they can understand their options and can make plans.”

Virginia Intermont was founded in 1884 by a Baptist minister to offer higher education to women. The school, now co-ed, has related to the Baptist General Association of Virginia for most of its existence.

Currently the BGAV nominates a portion of VI’s board of trustees and includes the school in its budget. This year the allocation is $1,000.