WASHINGTON, April 11, 2018: Mount Ida College is closing its doors after years of providing a liberal arts education to students, many of them with low income backgrounds. It’s news when a school that boasted having 1,400 students has fallen into financial disaster. Current word is that Mount Ida will shut down at the end of this semester and the University of Massachusetts Amherst will then take over the property.
Or at least, that’s what’s supposed to happen. It turns out the current arrangement between Mount Ida and UMass is under serious fire from the state of Massachusetts itself, according to the Boston Globe.
“Just two weeks before Mount Ida College struck a deal to close its doors and sell its leafy campus to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the college turned down an offer that would have kept the doors open and allowed its students to graduate.
“The competing deal would have merged Mount Ida and Lasell College, which are about six miles apart, and allowed most Mount Ida faculty and some staff to keep their jobs, according to three Lasell officials with direct knowledge of the merger terms.
“The two schools would have maintained separate boards, the officials said.
“These details have emerged as a growing number of state officials are looking into Mount Ida’s deal with UMass. The attorney general, state Department of Higher Education, and several state senators have all said that they want more information about the agreement, in which UMass Amherst plans to assume $55 million to $70 million of debt from Mount Ida and use the campus as a Boston outpost.”
Good deal for Mount Ida College students and faculty?
Initially, the UMass deal seems to be a good one for Mount Ida College students. UMass Dartmouth would automatically accept students, based on their standing with Mount Ida College. Dartmouth will accept all credits. UMass officials even said that those students will not have to pay more than $13,600 a year for tuition.
As Mount Ida students begin to enter UMass-Dartmouth, school officials claim they are finding ways to keep students together. Dartmouth is working with students who are studying programs not offered by the school. However, students who choose to finish up their degree at UMass-Dartmouth, still have to deal with a large campus setting.
Also on the negative side, all of the Mount Ida College staff, including all professors, will lose their jobs. Further, as the fall semester comes, students who don’t want to be UMass enrollees are being forced to find new schools on the fly.
Could Mt. Ida College have remained open?
Things might have been different. Mount Ida College might have struck an agreement with Lassell College to retained the school’s autonomy, students and faculty. The sticking point: the agreement required that well-funded Lassell take over many administrative and budgetary functions. Notes the Globe:
“The officials at Lasell, which like Mount Ida is in Newton, said they are frustrated and do not understand why Mount Ida rejected their offer and instead struck a deal that would require Mount Ida students to finish their studies elsewhere and about 300 staffers to be laid off.
“‘The students would have been provided for completely; we would have maintained the faculty and, you know, just managed the place,’ said one official, who requested anonymity because the officials were not authorized to discuss the terms publicly.
“Lasell and Mount Ida announced in February that they had been exploring a merger for more than a year. Then, 2½ weeks ago, the schools abruptly announced the talks had ended.
“Mount Ida officials, however, said Wednesday that the Lasell offer was unrealistic. A statement from Mount Ida trustees chairwoman Carmin Reiss, sent via a spokeswoman, called it an “ultimatum.”
“Reiss said that on March 22, after weeks of merger negotiations and the execution of a detailed memorandum of understanding, Lasell sent Mount Ida a new offer.
“‘Lasell sent Mount Ida an ultimatum with take-it-or-leave-it acquisition terms demanding a response the following day, which reneged on commitments in the MOU, dissolved the MOU, and — most importantly — offered no assurance that Mt. Ida’s operating costs would be covered in the coming academic year.’
“She said Mount Ida trustees rejected the proposal ‘to guarantee Mt. Ida students will have the opportunity for a top-tier university education.'”
Now, the state of Massachusetts is getting involved
Mount Ida’s dealings did not follow state-mandated guidelines. For that reason, Massachusetts Department of Higher Education is now looking into this issue. Given this investigation, there is now some question as to whether Mount Ida’s current arrangement with UMass-Dartmouth can proceed.
In addition, the strange demise of Mount Ida College prompted Massachusetts’ State Attorney General to launch an investigation into the closing of the school. The Attorney General’s office assures the students of state support in helping them make the right decisions on furthering their education.
But some students don’t appreciate Mount Ida’s positive public spin. WBUR-FM reports several Mount Ida students are finding it nearly impossible to find a school that will accept them. A major problem: how late this decision occurred in the academic year. That makes it tough to find alternatives. Mount Ida is currently holding private meetings with students and parents, about the closure. Even so, many students have publicly come out saying the information they’ve received is not helpful.
Lack of funding has impacted several schools across the country. In just this academic year, several small liberal arts schools have closed their doors. These include St. Gregory’s University in Oklahoma, Memphis College of Art in Tennessee, Grace University in Nebraska, and Santa Fe College of Art and Design in New Mexico. Large universities are also beginning to swallow up smaller schools.
On the positive side, Virginia’s Sweet Briar College managed to raise $28.5 million in donations from alumni, avoiding a shutdown of the campus. But can Sweet Briar recover for the longer term? That question remains unresolved
-T. Ponick contributed to this article.