MARLBORO -- Representatives from six area colleges met earlier this month to sign a memorandum of understanding that establishes the Windham Higher Education Cooperative.

Under terms of the understanding students from Community College of Vermont, Landmark College, Marlboro College, School for International Training, Union Institute and Vermont Technical College will be able to take up to one course at one of the other participating institutions each semester.

"This is a momentous occasion for us to be sitting here doing this," Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation Executive Director Patricia Moulton Powden said. "This is a great day for Windham County. It is great day for higher education. It's a great day for workforce development."

Moulton Powden also was announcing the hiring of a new internship coordinator, Jan Coplan, who will work with the colleges, and with area employers, to find paid internships for the students enrolled in the six area colleges.

BDCC received a $60,000 Vermont Department of Labor grant to fund the internship program.

"This is so important in terms of putting our students in the work place, and educating the employers about the tremendous asset we have in this county in terms of smart, capable learners and workers," Landmark College President Peter Eden said. "This takes a lot of work, and a lot of cooperation, and we have to work together very closely in order to set up the infrastructure to bring our students into the work force."

The collaboration program among the colleges should be available to students in September when the school year starts.

The idea to have the six area colleges work more closely together grew out of discussions former BDCC executive director Jeff Lewis had about 18 months ago concerning work force development in Windham County.

When CCV and Vermont Technical College committed to moving to the Brooks House, Lewis said he and former Town Manager Barbara Sondag met with representatives from all six colleges to see if all of the institutions could work more closely together.

Marlboro College President Ellen McCulloch-Lovell said the six college agreement was the first in the state that joins public and private institutions under the same program.

"When I first arrived in this area I was told by many, many people that Brattleboro is a college town without a college," said McCulloch-Lovell.

"Today, what we're doing is affirming that Brattleboro is a town with six colleges."

She said the cooperative will benefit students and strengthen economic development in the region.

McCulloch-Lovell also recognized the role the agreement could play in helping control costs at the colleges.

"We can build on each other and not duplicate each other's efforts toward a more robust programming," she said. "We're all very cost conscious and we are trying to find ways to combine resources and not duplicate resources."

"This doesn't happen easily," said Community College of Vermont President Joyce Judy. "You can think of six colleges competing or you can think of us holistically being better able to serve this part of the region. We've chosen to do it collaboratively."