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New owner envisions debt-free, work-ag school at Green Mountain College

Published: Aug. 31, 2020 at 6:54 PM EDT
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POULTNEY, Vt. (WCAX) - Green Mountain College has a new owner, but the name is staying. Our Olivia Lyons spoke with the new owner and his details on his plans.

Raj Bhakta says he has big plans to make Green Mountain College a work-ag college. One of those plans includes students leaving debt-free.

Bhakta says Vermont is suffering from a declining and aging population. Graduates leave, many with high debt-- and some with degrees they can’t use.

“We’re looking to solve that by sending out kids who are going to lead the revival of Vermont by graduating chocked full of skills, chocked full of optimism and vim and vigor, and without debt,” Bhakta said.

Bhakta is hoping the promise of graduating debt-free will help his new institution succeed where its predecessor failed.

Green Mountain College was one of many schools forced to shut its doors due to falling enrollment and increasing expenses.

This time around, Bhakta says it will be a “work college” dedicated to learning sustainable agriculture and practicing it before graduation.

I asked him if students will work on the farm instead of paying tuition. He says he’s still figuring that out. He did not specify which farms students would work on but says his own in Shoreham-- about 30 miles away-- could be an option.

“The kids will be working on the farms, they’re not going to be paying for school and they’re going to be graduating knowing all the things we know how to do, which is grow the best food and drink in the world, and sell the best food and drink in the world,” Bhakta said.

Entrepreneur Raj Bhakta says his liquor, Bhakta Brandy, and farm stand brands will contribute a significant portion of revenue and profits to the upkeep of the college.

He says he is looking for hardworking students, who are trying to become entrepreneurs and stay in Vermont.

Bhakta tells me he is looking into bringing back staff who had worked at Green Mountain College for the reopening.

“A wonderful opportunity for the town, a wonderful opportunity for young people today that can’t afford to go to college. I think it’s an absolutely terrific idea,” said Craig Hampl of Poultney.

Locals I spoke with are in favor of Bhakta buying the campus. They say having college kids in town gives a boost to the area’s economy.

“I see that this gentleman has success in his past endeavors and I’m hoping that he’ll do something that would be great for the town, great for the people that might attend his future school,” said Geraldine Jordan, who has a summer home in Poultney.

In addition to agriculture, Bhakta says students can also learn to be carpenters and electricians, most likely through a two-year degree.

Bhakta is looking to open the school with in-person learning this upcoming spring.

Raj Bhakta: I’ll bet in 10 years, we have the greatest college. Greatest work-ag college in the entire world.

Reporter Olivia Lyons: In the world?

Raj Bhakta: In the world.

Olivia Lyons: That’s a big statement, what backs that?

Raj Bhakta: What? My very successful track record.

I reached out for a comment from the town manager to see what the select board thinks of Bhakta’s plans and did not hear back before this story was published.

If Bhakta’s name is familiar to you, that’s probably because he is the founder of WhistlePig whiskey. Back in 2016, the board asked Bhakta to resign due to what they called “repeated unethical and unlawful behavior.”

Related Story:

Green Mountain College sells at auction far below asking price

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