Metro

Students scramble, AG pledges inquiry, after Mount Ida announces closure

Struggling Mount Ida College in Newton (above) and the University of Massachusetts have agreed that Mount Ida students can complete their degrees at UMass Dartmouth.
Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff
Struggling Mount Ida College in Newton (above) and the University of Massachusetts have agreed that Mount Ida students can complete their degrees at UMass Dartmouth.

The state’s attorney general pledged over the weekend to examine the planned closure of struggling Mount Ida College, which will merge with UMass Amherst, as students and parents grappled with an uncertain future.

“Our interest is ensuring that Mount Ida students are protected in this process and able to access the best information and resources to make decisions,” said Emalie Gainey, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Maura Healey, in a statement Sunday.

Concerned Mount Ida students can call Healey’s office at 888-830-6277. The attorney general’s involvement was first reported in the Boston Herald.

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Under the agreement announced Friday, students at the small Newton college will be able to complete their degrees at UMass Dartmouth.

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A Mount Ida spokeswoman said in a statement Sunday that the deal had been made quickly, under seal of a confidentiality agreement, after a proposed merger with Lasell College had fallen through, and that Mount Ida had worked to ensure the smoothest transition possible.

“Students will not lose any academic time this semester,” she said. “We will provide support, services, and most importantly, education from now through commencement this spring.”

For Melissa Gilson, 20, of Stoneham, Mount Ida is much more than a college.

When she was younger, she said, she never felt like she belonged. At Mount Ida, she found a core group of close, supportive friends.

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“I just really blossomed and became myself. It’s really hard to let something like that go,” she said.

The small college has a feeling of community, the sophomore with an early education major said, and two of her professors have become “like a second and a third mother” to her.

Her actual mother, Laura Gilson, 54, says they were “totally blindsided” to learn that the school they loved will close.

She compared their initial campus visit to “when you find that perfect outfit you just know the fit is right. When we hit the Mount Ida campus, we just kind of looked at each other and said, ‘This is right.’ ”

Some of the students most affected are those in specialized programs not widely offered elsewhere, such as the college’s funeral service, dental hygiene, and veterinary technician programs, which are not available at UMass Dartmouth.

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Those students face the prospect of changing their majors — and career plans — or moving to schools that may be hundreds of miles away, or may not offer a program that fits their needs.

Lindsay McPhail, 19, of Bradford, Maine, decided to become a funeral director, she said, after seeing how much interactions with funeral home staff affected her family’s experiences of loss.

“I realized that the best way I could help people was through the really darkest hour of their lives, when they’ve lost the people that they loved the most,” she said. When the time came to select a college, the choice was simple, she said.

“Mount Ida was closest to home, had a beautiful campus, and I instantly fell in love with the funeral service department,” she said.

Now she has to decide whether she will relocate to New York or Pennsylvania — putting her farther from her close-knit family — or enroll in another local program she considers inferior.

“They don’t come anywhere close to us,” she said of that program. “People transfer from there to here all the time.”

Mount Ida’s spokeswoman said that over the weekend it was “having countless conversations with schools to find solutions for students whose majors aren’t specifically offered at UMass” and has been “overwhelmed with calls from schools wanting to offer our students placements.”

Jeff Bennotti, 53, of Medfield, said he and his wife, Nancy Bennotti, have worked two jobs each to support their three children through college.

They thought the hardest part was over, with the youngest, Julianne Bennotti, 20, in her second year of Mount Ida’s three-year dental hygiene program.

Then they heard Friday’s announcement.

“Devastated is an understatement,” he said of their reaction. “We don’t know what the hell we’re going to do. . . . My daughter has literally just burst into tears on several occasions.”

Bennotti feels Julianne’s hard work in her courses, and her parents’ work in support of her education, have been squandered by mismanagement at the college, he said.

“I want my money back, at least for the last year,” Bennotti said. “You know the heads of the school are just going to walk away. We’re going to walk away too, but we’re going to walk away with debt.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect number for concerned Mount Ida students to call the state attorney general’s office. The number is 888-830-6277.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.