A staffing crunch and Boston\u2019s tight real estate market inspired Putnam Investments to reach out to northern New England with an offer: The mutual fund company would allow new employees to work from home at entry-level jobs, outfitting their homes with ISDN lines and high-speed workstations. Putnam received 1,700 r\u017dsum\u017ds in four weeks, most from ex-industry types who had escaped the Boston rat race to live in Vermont but who couldn\u2019t pass all their time teaching skiing and cozying up to roaring fires. In fact, says Ken Daly, managing director of general services at Putnam, many applicants had a master\u2019s degree and 10 years of industry experience. Still they needed to learn Putnam\u2019s processes.Putnam employs people who deal with big money and big corporations every day. But for this project, it thought small. Putnam has been training employees for more than a year now through Champlain College, a Burlington, Vt., school that nestles 1,450 students into placid surroundings on the shores of Lake Champlain. The college offered its first online degree in 1993 and has made a commitment to merging academia with the Internet. It now designs and administers corporate training programs, from live classes at the school to Internet-based offerings. "This place is small and nimble?it doesn\u2019t suffer from some of the accretions and inertia that other academic institutions do," says David Herren, director of online media development at Champlain College since December 2000. Why choose the college over known training consultants? Not only was the price right, but the programs were "just incredible," says Daly. Champlain designed the Web interface for training in areas such as buying annuities, settling wills and transferring money into trusts, based on Putnam\u2019s specifications. Ten percent of Putnam\u2019s 6,000 employees work from home, and the rate of attrition among home-based employees is very low, Daly says. And, as Herren says, Champlain College is not likely to suffer the business fluctuations of some hotshot consultancies. Founded in 1878, the school should be around a while longer. "Web development firms are dropping off the map," he says. "We\u2019re not just going to evaporate."