CRAFTSBURY — A junior at Sterling College in Craftsbury, Nekasi Fortune, from Guyana, has benefited significantly from the recent fundraising success at the school. A recipient of a number of scholarships and a needs-based grant, she says, “Had it not been for the financial support I would not have been able to attend college in the USA.”
Like Fortune, nearly 100 percent of the college’s student body receives Sterling grant funding. The average institutional grant for the 2018/2019 year is $23,100, and Sterling alumni complete their degree with 50 percent less loan debt than the national average.
“The faculty of the college understand that access to higher education is a challenge, and this campaign has made a Sterling education possible for many of our students,” said Dr. Laura Spence, the college’s dean of academics.
As faculty gathered to begin a new academic year, Sterling College announced that it has successfully concluded its five-year Nourish the Roots fundraising campaign by exceeding the original $9 million campaign goal, raising $11.6 million in gifts and pledges.
“We began this campaign with the assertion that Sterling College has an important role to play in higher education and that we believe small colleges can have an impact well beyond what their enrollment might suggest,” said Matthew Derr, Sterling’s 11th president, who led the campaign.
By the end of the campaign, 1,300 unique donors had committed to 4,584 gifts, which includes $643,500 in multi-year pledges and $3 million in estate plan commitments. Derr said many supporters valued the connection Sterling gives students to the natural world, with educational programs focused on environmental stewardship and the well-being of rural communities. Access to education for environmental stewards was a major priority of the Nourish the Roots campaign.
While many donors were foundations with similarly aligned values, or alumni and parents, community members also contributed. Craftsbury General Store co-owner Emily Maclure sees value in having the college in town and supported the fundraising campaign to more broadly support the community.
“I certainly see a benefit, from an economic standpoint, for sure,” Maclure said with a laugh, referring to the student population and faculty who frequent her two small retail locations and help keep them afloat.
But Maclure also notices changes on the landscape. Her father, who became a realtor after selling his farm in the 1980s, sees more young people, some from Sterling, buying up small farms and setting up viable operations. Maclure says Sterling’s programs, along with others like those of the nearby Center for an Agricultural Economy and state and federal programs, are helping with a local and Vermont resurgence in farming.
The Nourish the Roots campaign was guided and shaped by the college’s most recent five-year strategic plan, which prioritized the renovation of key academic spaces, increased campus sustainability, financial aid support and academics.
In 2013, near the start of the fundraising campaign, Sterling became the first college in Vermont, and the third in the nation, to fully divest its endowment from fossil fuels at the encouragement of the late Rian Fried, Sterling College trustee and co-founder of Clean Yield Asset Management, an investment management group that focuses on environmental sustainability.
During the campaign, Sterling announced the naming of the Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems, which serves as an instructional laboratory and model for sustainable approaches to food production and use. Also during the campaign, the Alfond Draft Horse Barn was built in 2014, with support from the Peter Alfond Foundation, plus a farrier shop, wash house, and greenhouses were built on campus.
The Dunbar Dining Hall and Houston House teaching kitchen were also renovated and upgraded during the campaign, which in turn supported the School of the New American Farmstead, a program at Sterling. Launched in 2015, the School of the New American Farmstead provides continuing education for agrarians, culinarians, entrepreneurs, and craftspeople looking to hone their skills.
In 2016, Sterling set the goal to be a national leader in sustainability on campus. The college installed 11 solar trackers to provide 80 percent of the campus’ electricity use, plus new windows were installed across campus for energy conservation and efficiency. As a result of these actions, combined with long-standing commitment to sustainability, the college was named the number one baccalaureate college in the nation for 2017 by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.
On the academic side, Sterling College used funds from the Endeavor Foundation to expand the Global Field Studies curriculum and for the addition of a sustainable food systems major, plus an increase in full-time faculty from 11 to 17.
“The evolution of the Sterling curriculum over the past five years has been significant and was driven intentionally by our faculty’s vision and expertise,” said Spence.
The campaign, which is named for Sterling’s historic motto, caps a period of increased philanthropic success for Sterling. In 2011, before the campaign began, total giving to the college was $518,000. In 2018, Sterling’s annual fund and capital campaign goals were exceeded by $500,000, with $1.7 million raised.
“We have truly nourished the roots of Sterling College,” said Jonathan Larsen, who is a donor, trustee, and past chairman. “But more than that, we’ve supported an institution that is preparing graduates who will make our lives richer here in Vermont and in all of the communities in which they live.”