Middlebury College moving some language schools to Bennington College

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BENNINGTON — Middlebury College will relocate several of its language schools to Bennington College, starting with the college's 2020 summer session, officials of both schools said Wednesday.

"We at Bennington are absolutely thrilled to be entering this partnership," said Mariko Silver, president of Bennington College, at a ceremony to sign the five-year contract for the partnership.

The specific schools moving to Bennington haven't yet been determined, Sarah Ray, director of media relations at Middlebury College, said at the event.

"That's still being sorted out," she said. Middlebury College operates 11 language schools, three of which have been located on the campus of Mills College in Oakland, California for the last 10 years. All 11 schools, which take place in the summer, currently enroll about 1,500 students total.

Silver characterized the partnership as a great opportunity for Vermont higher education, and for the campus, with increased employment opportunities for staff.

"Our campus will be more full in the summer, so more people coming to the campus, more people coming to the region," said Alex Dery Snider, director of media relations and public affairs, of the change.

The five-year contract is a starting point; both sides are excited about continuing, Snider said.

Silver described the opportunity for students from all over the world to experience the spirit of Bennington College with this change.

"I really couldn't think of anything better," she said to an audience of about 20 people. "It's not a transactional relationship. Bennington and Middlebury really are sister institutions."

Laurie Patton, Middlebury College president, spoke at the signing about the language schools' commitment to rigor, and how that is complemented by Bennington College.

"The Vermont mountains are the place to create high support and high challenge," she said.

Students at Middlebury Language Schools take a language pledge as part of the program, agreeing to use the language they're studying as their only language while attending the school. The schools generally are about seven to eight weeks.

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When some of the language schools moved out to Mills College, Patton said she felt a longing "for us to be altogether in our language schools," she said.

"The more we thought about it, the more we realized that Bennington was the perfect partner," she said, citing its rigor and deep commitment to the state of Vermont.

"I see partnerships like this as a real beacon of light, in so many different ways," she said.

Language learning, she said, is in the midst of wondering whether it will be replaced by machines.

But the job market for language learners is actually increasing, she said.

The change is not part of an overarching project for Bennington College.

"In general, we're always looking for partnerships and synchronicity," said Snider. "It's part of sort of a broader approach, but not any overarching project."

The move will also help Middlebury College streamline operations of its language schools by moving them all to Vermont, in both Middlebury and Bennington, Ray said.

"We used to all be on the Middlebury campus, but we outgrew that," she said.

Bennington College increases the use of its campus during the summer, when formal academic programs are not in session.

This change will not affect Bennington College's undergraduate or Master of Fine Arts programs.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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