Maybe they shouldn’t have bought that $10 million dollar lakefront property in 2010.

Charlie Tyson of Inside Higher Ed reports.

$10 Million Gamble

Classes begin today at Burlington College, a liberal arts college in Vermont that enrolls fewer than 200 students. But you wouldn’t know it from the college’s website. A notice on the website’s main page declares, in capital letters: “It’s not too late to apply for fall 2014.” The college urgently needs more students, who enter at $23,500 a head. With financial holes that have prompted no-confidence votes in the president and endangered the institution’s accreditation, dwindling enrollment is the last thing Burlington can afford.

The college is 15 or so students away from its fall 2014 enrollment goal of 180 students. That shortfall — the equivalent of a much larger enrollment deficit for a larger institution — translates into roughly $400,000 that the college will have to strip from its budget, Burlington College President Christine Plunkett said. “We’re hoping not to cut any positions, but we’ll absolutely be looking at benefits,” she said. “That’s a hard pill for people to swallow.”

Burlington has occupied a financially precarious position since it was founded in 1972 in its first president’s living room. But its story is more than the well-trodden tale of the tuition-dependent liberal arts college hurt by declining growth. Burlington College’s finances took a turn for the worse in 2010, when Jane Sanders, the college’s former president and the wife of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, bought a $10 million lakefront property from the local Roman Catholic diocese. (The college itself is secular, politically progressive and offers such majors as woodworking, film production and media activism.)

Matters have worsened under Plunkett’s leadership, former and current staff members at the college say. In June, the college’s accrediting agency put Burlington College on probation. The institution has two years to improve its financial position, or else it will lose its accreditation.