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Senators want a fund to aid Mount Ida students

The state committee probing the abrupt closure of Mount Ida College plans to issue recommendations later this month.
The state committee probing the abrupt closure of Mount Ida College plans to issue recommendations later this month. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/File/Globe Staff

The state Senate committee probing the abrupt closure in May of Mount Ida College plans to issue recommendations this month that will include establishing a fund to aid students who were financially harmed, the committee’s chairwoman said.

Other recommendations are likely to concern how the University of Massachusetts should use the Mount Ida campus, which it purchased upon the school’s closing, and several measures about financial oversight of colleges.

The Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight is preparing the recommendations in a report that will follow a hearing it held last month about Mount Ida and UMass Amherst’s plan to purchase the campus.

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The report is expected to be complete around June 20, according to the committee’s chairwoman, Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives. In the meantime, she outlined a number of recommendations it’s apt to include.

The senators are likely to recommend that the attorney general’s office oversee the mitigation fund for students harmed by Mount Ida’s shutdown. She said it should be funded with money that is left over after Mount Ida satisfies its obligations.

It is unclear what, if any, money will be available. A UMass spokesman said Thursday that Mount Ida will use the $75 million sales price to pay off about $53 million in loans, and the rest will go toward employee severance, pension liabilities, vendor contracts, and other outstanding expenses.

O’Connor Ives, a Newburyport Democrat, said such a fund could help current students who might need to repeat classes as well as prospective students who had turned down other college offers to attend Mount Ida this fall and are now scrambling.

O’Connor Ives said the fund should be created because she believes Mount Ida’s trustees violated their duty to act in students’ best interest in overseeing the school. “I believe that the Board of Trustees breached their fiduciary duty to the students,” O’Connor Ives said.

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Attorney General Maura Healey’s office is undertaking an investigation into whether trustees acted properly. Her office has filed papers in court requesting extensive financial documentation from the school and other records about decisions the trustees made.

In addition to a mitigation fund, the committee is likely to recommend that the UMass system, not the Amherst campus, acquire the property so that all five campuses could use it. The committee is also likely to suggest that UMass accept all credits from Mount Ida students who transfer, regardless of whether UMass offers the classes they took, O’Connor Ives said.

Also, the committee will probably recommend that UMass come under the authority of the state Department of Higher Education, the senator said. Currently, that department and its board oversees community colleges and state colleges, but not the UMass system, which has its own trustees.

The Senate committee is also likely to endorse a budget amendment passed by the Senate that could require colleges that know they are in financial distress to more publicly communicate their status to students, O’Connor Ives said.

And the committee may recommend that schools be required to file their audited financial statements with the attorney general sooner each year. Currently, colleges have almost 12 months to do so, which means the information available to the public is delayed.

In addition, the committee is likely to suggest that UMass continue to operate the veterinary technology program on the Mount Ida campus — not only until its current students graduate but into the future, since the program is popular and unusual.

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Lastly, O’Connor Ives said the report will note that the committee received contradictory testimony. She said Mount Ida officials and Lasell College officials gave different reasons for why a potential merger of those two schools fell through.


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