Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday afternoon sharply criticized the leaders of Mount Ida College for their abrupt decision to close the school and sell the campus to UMass Amherst, saying Mount Ida’s officials had not looked out for the students and staff.
Baker, speaking to reporters on Tuesday afternoon at the State House, said what bothered him most was that Mount Ida seemed to have been in decline for a while, so he wondered why the closing needed to be so sudden.
“This deficit that they are dealing with now has gotten worse and worse, and I feel terrible for the kids because as far as I’m concerned the grown-ups let them down, and I feel terrible for the staff at the school for the same reason,” Baker said.
University of Massachusetts trustees announced on Friday that they plan to acquire the Mount Ida campus in Newton as an outpost for UMass Amherst. Mount Ida students in good academic standing have been offered automatic admission to UMass Dartmouth. They are also eligible to apply to transfer to the other UMass campuses.
But that offer has infuriated many Mount Ida students, especially those who are close to graduation or in programs that UMass does not offer, including dental hygiene. The school has about 1,500 students.
The governor said he was “stunned, shocked, amazed, and really disappointed by the current state of play at Mount Ida.”
The news of the looming closure startled Mount Ida students and their families because they had no warning. Mount Ida had admitted students for the fall and collected deposits. The school has vowed to provide refunds.
Thirty-five percent of Mount Ida students are the first generation of their family to attend college, and 34 percent are students of color, according to the school’s website. About 42 percent are low income.
A spokeswoman from Mount Ida responded to the governor’s remarks, saying the school’s sole focus is to make sure students move to institutions where they can finish their degrees.
“The leadership of Mount Ida College is now, and always has been, committed to student academic success,” spokeswoman Amy Nagy said in an e-mail.
Nagy said Mount Ida is not alone in the challenges it faces as a small college that depends on student tuition to survive.
“We continue to be dedicated to our students’ welfare, particularly in the current trying circumstances. We are tirelessly working with other institutions to find ways for our students to pursue their areas of study,” she said.
Nagy said that over the next week representatives from UMass Boston, UMass Dartmouth, and UMass Lowell will be on campus, followed by representatives from more than 30 colleges that offer all Mount Ida’s majors and programs.
UMass Amherst plans to assume about $55 million to $70 million in debt from Mount Ida and use the campus for its students to complete internships and academic collaborations with Boston-area colleges and businesses. Amherst officials said the 72-acre Mount Ida campus, which comes with dorms, laboratories, and sports fields, will also help fund-raising by having a facility closer to alumni in the city.
The plan has, meanwhile, caused great consternation at UMass Boston, where some students and professors feel slighted that Amherst gets a new campus while the Boston campus remains plagued by debt and budget cuts.
The Amherst deal is not final. Mount Ida’s plan for how students will complete their degrees needs the approval of the state Board of Higher Education. Its next meeting is scheduled for April 24.
In addition, although UMass trustees approved Amherst’s plan to buy the campus, a UMass system office spokesman said on Monday that the deal is subject to more research.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Maura Healey’s office said over the weekend she would look into the situation to see if Mount Ida students could possibly qualify for relief from their college loans and to help determine what transfer options are available.
In response to the governor’s remarks on Tuesday, UMass system president Martin T. Meehan told the State House News Service that Mount Ida students are UMass’s top priority.
“Our number one concern has been with the students at Mount Ida,” Meehan said.