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UMass might help Mount Ida students finish degrees

The University of Massachusetts’ flagship campus in Amherst.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/File

The University of Massachusetts is in talks with Mount Ida College to create a way for students at the small, struggling school to finish their degrees at UMass, a person directly familiar with the talks said Thursday. UMass might also acquire the school’s 72-acre Newton campus.

News of these discussions comes two weeks after a deal to merge Mount Ida with nearby Lasell College fell through. Since those talks ended, Mount Ida has been rumored to be facing closure and exploring partnerships with several institutions, the person said.

Lasell and Mount Ida announced the possibility of a merger in February but it ultimately did not happen.

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The two schools sit 6 miles apart from each other in Newton and already share police forces and some computer technology.

Mount Ida president Barry Brown said in a phone interview on Thursday that the college is in “very detailed and extensive discussions with UMass.” He also said that he is discussing how the Mount Ida campus might be part of the deal with UMass.

“Our primary focus at this point is the well-being and success of our students,” said Brown, the former Suffolk University provost who has led Mount Ida since 2012.

Brown would not say whether the college might close. Earlier this year, he said the school would still accept students for enrollment in the fall, but on Thursday said he could not answer that question. Brown said the opportunities he is discussing with UMass are “really superb” in terms of providing opportunities for students.

Earlier Thursday, reporters asked Governor Charlie Baker about the UMass plan. Baker said he had a brief conversation with UMass president Martin T. Meehan about the conversations with Mount Ida but knew no details.

“Obviously, if in fact there is something that’s going on there that will actually move forward, I think it’s going to be important for us to all understand what it means for the students and what it means for the students of Mount Ida as well as the students at UMass,” Baker told reporters at the State House.

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The announcement comes as small colleges across the country struggle to stay viable in an era of declining enrollment, when families increasingly struggle to afford private college tuition.

Mount Ida was founded in the 1800s as a two-year finishing school for women and it has evolved into a coeducational four-year school whose tuition is about $35,000 per year, plus about $14,000 for room and board.

The school, on Dedham Street, is a traditional liberal arts college with programs including veterinary technology, dental hygiene, game animation, and premedicine.

It has 1,500 undergraduates and 30 graduate students, according to the school.

Mount Ida has about 500 employees including 63 full-time faculty.

It has about 160 part-time professors, and an average class size of about 16 students.

The school is also in the process of selling several acres on its campus to a developer who plans to build a neighborhood of eight single-family homes. The plan has met some opposition from neighbors.

In February, Brown told The Boston Globe that transaction was unrelated to the possible merger.


Globe correspondent Matt Stout contributed to this report. Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.