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Becker College to close this spring as pandemic deals final blow, officials say

Becker College.
Becker College.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Becker College, a small, private liberal arts school in Worcester, will close after the end of this school year, the board of trustees announced Monday.

The school, best known for its veterinary, nursing, and video game design programs, has struggled financially for years and trustees said the COVID-19 pandemic, which hurt enrollment and brought added costs, dealt the final blow.

“Ultimately, the impacts of COVID-19 turned what was a very challenging situation into an unsustainable situation,” President Nancy P. Crimmin said in a statement from the school, which had said it was on the brink of closure earlier this month.

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Becker is the latest small, tuition-dependent institution to shut its doors in recent years. After Mount Ida College in Newton closed abruptly in 2018, state and industry leaders vowed to keep a closer watch over schools’ finances to avoid another equally chaotic situation. They flagged Becker’s fiscal situation as concerning late last year.

Becker, which has about 1,500 students, will help students continue their studies elsewhere through August 31, officials said in a press release. Becker has made arrangements with several local schools to admit its students. For incoming students who were admitted for the fall, Becker will refund deposits and help students find new places to enroll. The college will also help faculty and staff find new employment.

The school’s final graduation ceremony will take place May 8.

“This was a deeply painful decision for the Board to make — one that the College administration made every possible effort to stave off, but one we came to realize in recent weeks was unavoidable,” said Christine L. Cassidy, chair of Becker’s board of trustees.

The college had taken a range of steps over the past two years in an effort to stabilize its finances, Cassidy said.

“We pushed ourselves to develop scenarios in which Becker remained open for another year and beyond,” she said. “However, those scenarios included more debt, selling assets, and further cutting operations.”

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Based on the advice of auditors and consultants, the school decided that remaining open past this year would be “irresponsible and unsustainable,” she said.

“As devastating as closing this 237-year-old institution is, we want this closure process to be one that conveys the maximum possible respect and support for everyone whose lives and careers we know it will affect,” she said.

Late last year, the state Department of Higher Education reached out to the college after flagging its financial situation as concerning. Becker assured state officials they were in good standing and on the brink of a partnership with TCS Education System, a nonprofit in Chicago that runs a network of colleges.

But Becker informed the state earlier this year that the partnership had not materialized. In response, the state Department of Higher Education said the school’s financial situation had become “sufficiently uncertain” to threaten its long-term viability.

“The Department of Higher Education believes that the institution is unlikely to sustain full operations through the next academic year,” the agency said.

On Monday, state officials set up a website with information about the school’s closing. State officials will work with the school to ensure an orderly closure, the site said.

On Monday, Clark University in Worcester announced it will take over the school’s interactive media design program and create the Becker School of Design & Technology at Clark University. The college also plans to help Becker students who study esports management and integrated graphic design, as well as business, criminology, and computer science, finish their degrees at Clark.

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“We’re thrilled not only to continue these signature Becker programs, which are already among some of the best in the world, but also to expand them and broaden their scope,” Clark President David Fithian said in a statement.

Becker School of Design & Technology Dean Alan Ritacco and Associate Dean Paul Cotnoir will continue to oversee the programs at Clark, that school said. Clark will also hire several faculty members from the program, which will remain on the Becker campus for at least the next academic year.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute also said it will allow interactive media majors at Becker to transfer. WPI has a similar program and has also proposed to house the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute, which has been part of Becker.



Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.