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    Mount Ida College to close; UMass to acquire Newton campus

    The campus center at Mount Ida College in Newton.
    Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff
    The campus center at Mount Ida College in Newton.

    Struggling Mount Ida College, a liberal arts school with roots dating back to 1899, will close and UMass Amherst will acquire its Newton campus under an agreement finalized Friday.

    The agreement will allow students at Mount Ida to complete their degrees at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. It also provides UMass Amherst with a long-sought presence closer to Boston, officials said.

    The deal was negotiated over the past two weeks as the small liberal arts college in Newton looked for ways to stay viable after another option, a potential merger with Lasell College, fell through.

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    The deal will result in layoffs for the 280 full- and part-time Mount Ida employees, the college said.

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    “The financial pressure on small colleges has never been greater, and our limited resources obligate us to consider the long-term future of our community,” Mount Ida president Barry Brown wrote in an e-mail sent Friday to students to announce the news.

    Small private colleges across the country are struggling to survive, as the number of high-school-aged students declines and families are increasingly unwilling or unable to take on big student loans. Experts predict a major drop in the number of high school graduates overall after the year 2025 — especially in New England — because people have had fewer children since the 2008 economic recession.

    One-third of the approximate 1,500 Mount Ida students are the first in their families to attend college, according to the school. Founded as a two-year finishing school for women, it evolved into a coeducational four-year liberal arts college with tuition of about $35,000 per year, plus about $14,000 for room and board.

    Students from Mount Ida who are in good academic standing will be offered automatic admission at UMass Dartmouth. The Dartmouth campus will also help students who want to apply to transfer to the UMass campuses at Boston, Lowell, and Amherst, according to UMass officials.

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    Tuition at UMass Dartmouth for the former Mount Ida students will be no more than $13,600, the in-state rate for Massachusetts students. Students will be guaranteed on-campus housing at standard rates and offered housing in areas with other Mount Ida students.

    “It pains my heart for the [Mount Ida] students,” UMass Dartmouth chancellor Robert Johnson said. “I just want to see them get settled and be able to complete their degrees.”

    UMass Amherst officials say the acquisition of the 72-acre Mount Ida campus will help students from the university with internships and academic collaborations in Boston, and also make it easier to hold events and connect with alumni, who rarely venture two hours west of Boston to visit the UMass Amherst campus.

    Amherst students could live on the Mount Ida campus while completing yearlong internships in the Boston area, according to UMass officials. The facility would also enable academic collaborations with companies or other universities in Greater Boston. It could also be used for UMass online programs, they said.

    “It’s a big deal,” said Amherst chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy , who will see his dream of a Boston-area campus come true.

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    The campus in Newton contains 24 buildings, including 820 beds as well as classrooms, laboratories, and dining and recreation facilities. Campus amenities, including athletic fields, will also be available for use by UMass Boston, according to UMass.

    Brown, the Mount Ida president, said this deal will be in the students’ best interest and provide them with better educational opportunities.

    “We enter this period of transition with compassion and concern for you, and our top priority is to offer our support and guidance,” he wrote. He continued: “I know that no institution can replace Mount Ida, and that you cherish the campus and culture we have built together.”

    UMass trustees approved the deal Friday at their regularly scheduled board meeting in Amherst.

    The Mount Ida campus will be operated by UMass Amherst faculty and staff. It will also offer graduate, continuing, and professional education programs, according to UMass.

    The campus is near routes 128 and 9, and the many tech businesses in those sections of Newton and Needham.

    “It’s going to create internships, co-ops, experiential opportunities for Amherst students within the Greater Boston business community,” said UMass system president Martin T. Meehan.

    East Boston Savings Bank is financing the UMass acquisition with $37 million in tax-exempt bonds to repay debt Mount Ida had with that bank and two others, according to bank CEO Dick Gavegnano.

    East Boston Savings will also provide UMass Amherst a $20 million optional line of credit it can use for renovations.

    Mount Ida also received an approximately $15 million loan from a private donor. The person agreed to forgive a portion of the loan, and UMass will assume the balance of that debt. UMass also agreed to assume some liabilities of Mount Ida, such as vendor contracts, officials said.

    UMass Dartmouth
    Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
    UMass Dartmouth

    As for the current Mount Ida students, Johnson said UMass Dartmouth is the only campus where all of students’ Mount Ida credits are guaranteed to transfer.

    UMass Dartmouth officials said counselors will try to schedule students in classes with other Mount Ida students. The UMass Dartmouth athletic program, which competes in the NCAA Division III, will offer opportunities for Mount Ida students to join teams and programs, according to UMass.

    Mount Ida classes will conclude after commencement this spring. The school has accepted students for the fall, who are now considering alternatives. Mount Ida employees will be laid off with severance after commencement, according to a Mount Ida spokeswoman.

    On Monday the school plans to hold forums for students to learn about their options at UMass, she said.

    According to an official at the state Department of Higher Education, both Mount Ida’s closure and UMass’s plan to open a satellite campus are subject to approval by the state Board of Higher Education.

    Many Mount Ida students and their families were shocked to learn the news on Friday. One parent said the last message from the president said the school was doing well.

    Gillian Menezes, 18, from Billerica, was accepted to Mount Ida for the fall and already paid a $300 deposit. (The college said it will be refunded.) She planned to room with her best friend and study political science and history.

    Money was a big factor in her decision, she said. Mount Ida gave her about $27,000 in scholarships, she said. Now she will scramble to try to apply to other schools.

    “I’m stressing a lot about it,” she said. “I’m just trying to rush it all in.”

    Morgan Raymond, 18, also planned to attend Mount Ida in the fall. She said she chose it for its program in dental hygiene and loved the serene campus. Other schools accepted her but did not offer as much financial aid, said Raymond, from Coventry, R.I.

    “It’s all so new and shocking information, so I’ll have to wait and see what they are planning to do with the incoming fall students,” she said Friday.

    Other students expect an easier transition. Alex Wood, a freshman from West Brookfield, said he will probably try to transfer to UMass Amherst. He chose Mount Ida because it has a major in video game art. UMass Amherst has a similar major, he said, although it is not exactly the same.

    But Malik Wallace, a sophomore from Boston who studies sports management, said he wished students had more notice. Deadlines to apply to other colleges have passed, making it hard to transfer. And the news comes at a time when students are working on final projects and getting ready for final exams.

    “Which is a slap in the face because we aren’t even going to be coming back,” he said.

    Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com.