Mount Ida College agreed on April 6 to be bought by UMass Amherst for $37 million in a deal that came as a surprise to many.
Mount Ida, on the verge of financial collapse, had sought to merge with Lasell College in an effort to avoid having to close. That deal fell through, so two weeks later Mount Ida sold itself to UMass Amherst.
The 119-year-old private college will close after this spring’s commencement.
The deal will result in Mount Ida’s Newton campus being transferred to UMass Amherst. UMass Amherst will also be responsible the over $50 million of debt that belonged to Mount Ida.
UMass Amherst plans on using the Newton campus as a satellite campus to support partnerships in Boston. For comparison, Mount Ida is 10 miles from Boston while UMass Amherst is about 90 miles away.
In an April 12 statement, UMass President Marty Meehan stated that “There are no state appropriated funds involved in this transaction,” and that this acquisition is being paid for by borrowing on UMass Amherst’s part.
That means this purchase was made without funding from the state, which is of interest in context of UMass’s debt building in recent years. According to the Pioneer institute, from 2005 to 2016 the UMass system’s debt increased three-fold, to $2.9 billion.
Financial responsibility is a sensitive interest to many involved in the UMass system. UMass Boston, for example, has endured issues in recently coming from operating at a multimillion dollar deficit. Meehan says that the purchase of Mount Ida College should not negatively affect UMass Boston.
The almost 1500 Mount Ida students left behind after the closing are being admitted to UMass Dartmouth, as long as they are in good academic standing. Meehan also said that other UMass campuses will be working to expedite admission of Mount Ida students.
This influx of students is of benefit to UMass Dartmouth, where low enrollment numbers forced the closure of Roberts Hall, a first-year dorm.
Students coming to UMass Dartmouth will all be offered in-state tuition not exceeding $13,600 and will be guaranteed room and board for $12,000. This comes to over $25,000 compared to the $35,000 of tuition Mount Ida charged, according to an email sent to UMass Dartmouth students by Chancellor Robert Johnson.
UMass Dartmouth offers to be an alternative with programs compatible with Mount Ida’s Interior Architecture and Design, Game Art, Animation, Digital Visualization, and Fashion Design programs. Students in these majors will be able to get a UMass Dartmouth degree. UMass Dartmouth states that it will work to offer a pathway to graduation for other majors as well.
Several other colleges in the region that are not Massachusetts state schools have also announced that they will be working to quickly admit Mount Ida’s students, should they apply. This includes Keene State College in New Hampshire, Regis College in Weston, and Curry College in Milton among others.
That being said, as a student this is still a difficult time to find out that Mount Ida is closing. Mount Ida made little to no effort to warn its community of its financial plight – evidenced by the fact that its Fall 2018 admissions page has no indications of anything out of the ordinary. It is already too late for these students to apply to the many colleges who have not gone out of their way to accommodate them.
All of the 280 Mount Ida staff are being fired as well. UMass Dartmouth’s provost Mohammad Karim does however say that “there will also be opportunities for some of Mount Ida’s full-time faculty in these programs to serve in full-time lecturer or visiting positions at the university.”
There are a lot of parties that have concerns about this deal.
First, many at UMass Boston are worried that this will negatively affect them. According to the Boston Globe, Interim Chancellor Barry Mills said that “we don’t need a campus in Newton.” In essence, they are worried that the UMass system is not doing enough to deal with UMass Boston’s debt issues. Additionally, there is worry that UMass Amherst’s expansion to the Boston area represents competition in the system.
It seems UMass struck a nerve by not informing the Massachusetts government that they were planning the purchase. Governor Charlie Baker expressed concern over this, saying “I certainly think that it’s important for the Board of Higher Ed to look into the issues associated with how we got here and what the next move might be and what the elements of that move might be.”
From the Board of Higher Education, Deputy State Commissioner for Academic Affairs and Student Success Patricia Marshall said, “We are disappointed by the lack of appropriate and timely communications with our office regarding the closure of Mt. Ida, and with the accelerated timeline that is now in place.”
Additionally, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy has also pledged to investigate the transaction in the interest of consumer protection, while the state senate has also ordered an inquiry.
The deal also raised criticism as Mount Ida apparently shared student’s private records with UMass Dartmouth without their permission. This was done with the intention of quickening the admission process, however some feel the sharing violated their privacy.