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Could Mount Ida College have stayed open?

Mount Ida College officials rejected the Lasell offer and instead struck a deal that forces students to continue their studies elsewhere and lays off about 300 staff.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Just two weeks before Mount Ida College struck a deal to close its doors and sell its leafy campus to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the college turned down an offer that would have kept the doors open and allowed its students to graduate.

The competing deal would have merged Mount Ida and Lasell College, which are about six miles apart, and allowed most Mount Ida faculty and some staff to keep their jobs, according to three Lasell officials with direct knowledge of the merger terms.

The two schools would have maintained separate boards, the officials said.

These details have emerged as a growing number of state officials are looking into Mount Ida’s deal with UMass. The attorney general, state Department of Higher Education, and several state senators have all said that they want more information about the agreement, in which UMass Amherst plans to assume $55 million to $70 million of debt from Mount Ida and use the campus as a Boston outpost.

The officials at Lasell, which like Mount Ida is in Newton, said they are frustrated and do not understand why Mount Ida rejected their offer and instead struck a deal that would require Mount Ida students to finish their studies elsewhere and about 300 staffers to be laid off.


“The students would have been provided for completely; we would have maintained the faculty and, you know, just managed the place,” said one official, who requested anonymity because the officials were not authorized to discuss the terms publicly.

Lasell and Mount Ida announced in February that they had been exploring a merger for more than a year. Then, 2½ weeks ago, the schools abruptly announced the talks had ended.

Mount Ida officials, however, said Wednesday that the Lasell offer was unrealistic. A statement from Mount Ida trustees chairwoman Carmin Reiss, sent via a spokeswoman, called it an “ultimatum.”


Reiss said that on March 22, after weeks of merger negotiations and the execution of a detailed memorandum of understanding, Lasell sent Mount Ida a new offer.

“Lasell sent Mount Ida an ultimatum with take-it-or-leave-it acquisition terms demanding a response the following day, which reneged on commitments in the MOU, dissolved the MOU, and — most importantly — offered no assurance that Mt. Ida’s operating costs would be covered in the coming academic year.”

She said Mount Ida trustees rejected the proposal “to guarantee Mt. Ida students will have the opportunity for a top-tier university education.”

Lasell officials said Wednesday that as they learned more about Mount Ida’s financial obligations during negotiations in March, they wanted a greater degree of financial control over Mount Ida. Under the proposal from Lasell, the two schools would have maintained separate assets and liabilities, but Lasell would have been responsible for the management of much of the finances, the Lasell officials said.

They said Lasell’s finances are strong and would have been able to support Mount Ida with the layoff of some Mount Ida staff, among other efficiencies.

The school has a $36 million endowment and a BBB-rating from Standard & Poor’s, which is considered a good but not a top rating.

The details of the would-be deal come as Mount Ida students scramble to figure out how to complete their degrees.

As part of its acquisition, UMass offered Mount Ida students in good standing automatic admission to UMass Dartmouth or the option to apply to transfer to the other UMass campuses.


But many Mount Ida students have said they do not want to attend a campus an hour away. Some are part of specialized programs at Mount Ida, including funeral services and dental hygiene, that UMass does not offer. Mount Ida had also offered admission to an incoming class, many of whom had already paid deposits.

Mount Ida has about 1,500 undergraduates and 33 graduate students.

Thirty-five percent of Mount Ida students are in the first generation of their families to attend college, and 34 percent are students of color, according to the school’s website.

About 42 percent are low-income.

Meanwhile, several state entities have their eyes on the UMass-Mount Ida deal. The Department of Higher Education has requested information from Mount Ida and a meeting.

The department, which oversees both public and private colleges in the state, said in a sharply worded letter Tuesday that it learned of Mount Ida’s plan to close through news coverage and reminded the school that it must notify the state in advance of plans to close or merge and file the appropriate documents.

“We are disappointed with the lack of the appropriate and timely communications with our office regarding the closure of Mt. Ida, and with the accelerated timeline that is now in place,” wrote Patricia A. Marshall, deputy commissioner for academic affairs.

Marshall told Mount Ida that it is required to provide the state with detailed plans for closing, including how every Mount Ida student could complete his or her degree.


The letter said Mount Ida cannot force students to attend UMass Dartmouth. It said Mount Ida must provide a detailed plan by the end of Thursday about which degree programs are offered at UMass Dartmouth, which are not, how many students are in each program, and a plan for the students who are in programs not offered at Dartmouth.

The letter also said the school must provide students counseling on the possibility of discharging their federal student loans, if they are eligible.

Marshall’s letter said the state has concerns about students who were admitted to Mount Ida for the fall and requested information on how many students were admitted and have made deposits.

Chris Gabrieli, chairman of the state Board of Higher Education, said it plans to discuss the Mount Ida deal at a meeting on April 24.

“We’re trying to get in the game and say how do we help these students right now,” Gabrieli said Wednesday.

Attorney General Maura Healey’s office has also said that it wants to make sure students are able to continue their studies, ideally at no extra cost. Healey’s office is also gathering information on the terms of the sale of the campus to UMass, according to officials there.

Also on Wednesday, a state Senate committee said that it plans to hold a hearing on the merits of the pending acquisition by UMass.


Two state senators voiced skepticism about the deal on the floor of the Senate Wednesday, saying it was struck “under the cover of darkness.”

Senator Mark Montigny, a Democrat whose district includes UMass Dartmouth, said he wants details on why this is a good plan for the University of Massachusetts and for taxpayers.

“I represent UMass Dartmouth, so one would assume this is a great deal, but even we have concerns,” he said.

Laura Krantz can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.