POULTNEY : As colleges and universities come alive this fall, some campuses sit closed and empty after succumbing to recent wave of fewer students and financial challenges.

Now communities that long hosted those historic institutions and relied on them for an economic boost - and their very identity - are left to adapt to the vacancy and wondering what comes next.

In Poultney, Vermont, population 3,300, Green Mountain College had occupied a prominent spot at the end of the main street for 185 years.

That changed in the spring, when the environmentally minded liberal arts school closed after commencement, citing a drop in enrollment and financial challenges.

The closure ''literally changed the entire town of Poultney,'' said Mel Kingsley, who runs Mel's Place hair Salon, several blocks from campus, and got 30% of her business from students.

''The town came alive every time the students came back, and you can feel the difference,'' she said.  Besides the day-to-day loss of students and school employees, communities also lose the graduates who stick around.

Sophia Vincenza Milkowski, of New York City, graduated two years ago and stayed in Poultney because she liked it so much.

''We're still trying to figure out what Poultney even is now without it there,'' she said during a break from work at a taco restaurant.

''We're all feeling its absence,'' she said, ''whether we were a part of the college or not.''

Across the country, 71 private nonprofit colleges and universities have closed since 1995, including schools that announced they would shutter in June 2020, according to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

Just 12 independent institutions have opened in that period, while 29 have have merged the association said.

Schools have grappled with a shift toward more career-oriented training and a decline in the number of college-age students. Now towns are left dealing with the fallout.

In Bristol, Virginia, the campus of the former Virginia Intermont College has stood vacant on the edge of the small city for more than four years.

''When you lose a significant number of people, that's coming into your downtown area on a daily basis, that does hurt the local surrounding businesses by virtue of students not spending cash and buying food or goods that they would have normally bought when they were here in town,'' said Randy Eads, the city's manager and attorney.

''So that's has had an impact on some of the local businesses, which in turn has had an impact on city revenue.


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