Middlebury woman has plans for Burlington College

MIDDLEBURY –– Burlington College is looking to expand by 50 percent, and the college has chosen a Middlebury resident to lead the effort as its new president.
“My plan and wish is to grow the college to 300 students within three years, which is a 50 percent increase and an ambitious goal, but we have the space and very unique programs,” said Christine Plunkett.
Plunkett graduated from the University of Vermont with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and earned her Master of Business Administration from Northeastern University. She is a trustee of the Bridge School and worked at the Gailer School for 10 years. She served as Burlington College’s vice president of administration and finance for the past five years.
Burlington College, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, is one of the 10 smallest schools in the country with only 200 students. The school is known for its Film and Cinema major and a study abroad program in Cuba.
As president, Plunkett will focus on the school’s growth, which means she’ll spend substantial effort raising money.
“One of the most significant roles for most college presidents is fundraising and that’s something that I will be undertaking along with the development director,” she said. “We have a couple of very important initiatives.”
Plunkett’s three biggest goals for the school are fundraising, increasing enrollment and building a new residence hall.
These initiatives will go hand-in-hand with the school’s recent acquisition of a new Burlington campus on the Lake Champlain waterfront.
“We just purchased a brand new campus for ourselves which took us from a 16,000-square-foot building to the historic old Catholic diocese headquarters on North Avenue,” she said. “We now have 80,000 square feet, 35 acres of land overlooking the lake. It’s one of the most beautiful spots in the city. But now we need to fill it.”
A larger campus enables Plunkett’s goal of getting more students to sign up for classes beyond the 200 currently enrolled.
“Probably my most immediate initiative is enrollment growth,” she said. “I’ve hired a new academic dean who has great strengths in enrollment management. He and I have already begun working together with the admissions department to work on enrollment growth.”
Burlington College has organized an open house this summer for prospective applicants where the school can showcase its attributes, which include a new scholarship for top Vermont high school students.
Plunkett hopes measures such as these, coupled with the school’s many unique programs, will build up enrollment.
The college recently added a Hospitality and Event Management program, which Plunkett believes will attract more students.
“There are only a couple of institutions in Vermont now that offer a degree in that and yet hospitality and tourism is the largest growing field of tourism in the state,” she said. “It seems like an important field to be educating young students. Students can intern and they can participate in running events, running weddings, hosting reunions, whatever it might be. We expect that to grow pretty rapidly.”
The school also just added a new individualized master’s program, something Plunkett thinks also will help draw students.
“It’s an individualized master’s, which means that you can essentially come work with our faculty and dean to design a master’s degree,” she said. “That’s very unique.”
The school’s plans for a new residence hall mesh well with the goal of raising enrollment levels. The college needs to develop the capability to house more students, and increased available housing could in turn attract more prospective students, Plunkett said.
With these measures, Plunkett believes the school will prosper.
“I see our academic programs are very strong and they’re continuing to grow, but enrollment growth and fundraising are just so important for us right now because we have this amazing new campus to fill,” she said.
Plunkett is also invested in educating young people and keeping them in Vermont, an issue that has become increasingly apparent in the state.
“Vermont is, out of all 50 states, second from the top in the percentage of students that complete high school, but we are second from the bottom in the numbers of those students who go to college,” she said. “What that tells you is that Vermont probably has a large population of students who are competent, capable and completed high school and that’s where they stopped. Many of those students stay in Vermont.”
Plunkett wants to provide higher education to these young people and cites the work of United Technologies, an international corporation, as a model for how Vermont companies can help educate the Vermont work force.
“They run a program where they pay 100 percent of tuition, fees, books, all expenses, for any employee of their company anywhere in the world to pursue any degree,” she said. “All of it’s paid for, it doesn’t have to relate to their field of work, you don’t have to stay with the company when you’re finished, you don’t owe them any money back.”
While Vermont lacks corporations of this magnitude, Plunkett still sees potential for Burlington College and smaller companies to partner up and provide higher education to employees.
“Maybe it’s a 50-50 split, where the company puts half of the tuition and the college as a scholarship gives half so it’s still not costing the student anything,” she said. “We are also able as a very small college to also bring our faculty into an organization. If there was an organization that had five or six employees that maybe wanted to take a preliminary, early college course just to see what it’s like, we could actually bring our faculty there and fit it into their workday.”
This issue is one of many Plunkett hopes to address as the college’s president, in conjunction with other schools and various businesses.
“I think there really needs to be a careful look taken to rejuvenate the youthful population here and keep people living here and working here,” she said. “If all of the colleges and industries in the state can figure out creative ways to stimulate the economy and the environment here, I think that would make a big difference.”
Intern Kaitlyn Kirkaldy is at [email protected].

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