Former Mount Ida College students and staff are trying to move forward
Ten months after Mount Ida College in Newton abruptly closed, the school’s former professors are struggling to find new jobs, and many former students are facing drastically higher tuition bills at new colleges.
Meanwhile, an attorney general investigation into the actions of the college trustees is progressing, and state officials are working to avoid last-minute closures of other struggling colleges.
“I believe we’ll be in a better position to prevent more Mount Ida-like students from being left in the lurch,” said Chris Gabrieli, the chairman of the state Board of Higher Education, who is leading that effort.
What happened at Mount Ida is expected to become more common. Small private colleges are expected to close with more frequency in the coming years, because students are no longer able to afford their big price tags, experts say. And as Mount Ida demonstrated, many schools cannot afford to continue to deeply discount their tuition to a level that is affordable.
But Mount Ida came under heavy criticism for giving students and professors just two months’ notice that the school would close and little help transferring or finding new jobs.
Some of the students have transferred to UMass Dartmouth, a school that proactively recruited them with the promise of automatic transfer. But others, especially those in a handful of niche majors offered at Mount Ida, have had a harder time. In many cases, they and their families have had to pay much more expensive tuition at their new schools.
Students have transferred to institutions all across the region. Four of the funeral services students transferred to the State University of New York at Canton, a public college near the Adirondack Mountains.
Lindsay McPhail said the process has been stressful and expensive. She was on track to have a $32,000 scholarship this year at Mount Ida, but now her tuition is about that much at SUNY, with few scholarships.
She and the other Mount Ida students have been considering renting an off-campus apartment to save money. They are worried about the loans they’ve had to take out this year, and they feel alone, separated from classmates in the tight-knit program that was one of the most respected majors at Mount Ida.
“I think the worst thing about it is that we really all did get kind of split up in the end,” McPhail said. “We’re here, there, and everywhere.”
McPhail said it’s been hard to adjust to being so far from home — SUNY Canton is a seven-hour drive from Boston — and for some students it’s been an adjustment to be in such a rural environment.
“If I didn’t have those people with me, I think I would have lost my mind,” McPhail said.
Some of the funeral services students were able to continue their studies at Cape Cod Community College, which agreed to finish teaching the current students from Mount Ida. But McPhail said it was uncertain last spring whether that arrangement would happen, so she chose to go elsewhere.
Laura Gilson said her daughter has transferred to Becker College in Worcester. Gilson said her biggest concern is that because her daughter lives off campus, she will miss the community of a campus.
“I don’t feel that she’s really kind of a part of the whole college experience,” Gilson said.
Gilson said the cost of the new school is about the same. She said parents are still considering whether there is legal action they can pursue against Mount Ida.
Meanwhile, the Mount Ida campus is already being used by UMass Amherst, which purchased it in a deal that received pushback, especially from UMass Boston. Students and professors there said it was unfair for the public university system to allow the Amherst campus to purchase an outpost so near their own campus without involving UMass Boston.
UMass has taken over the veterinary tech program and is running it on the Mount Ida campus to allow the current students to graduate. There are about 150 students in the program now, according to UMass Amherst. The university plans to seek approval to continue that program permanently.
Dental hygiene program students have also been allowed to finish their degree programs on the Mount Ida campus, UMass said. That program, which has about 50 students, is run by nearby Regis College. Next semester UMass Amherst plans to host other programs on the campus, as well as house students who will perform social science and public health internships in Boston.
In all, about 400 of the 1,000 or so students from Mount Ida transferred to UMass, about half of them to UMass Dartmouth. Students in the small commercial photography program are at Framingham State.
The abrupt closure of Mount Ida triggered an investigation by the state attorney general’s office, which has oversight of nonprofit organizations and their officers. The attorney general is investigating whether college trustees acted in the best interest of the school in their management of school finances, which had been deteriorating for years, despite the fact that it continued to offer generous scholarships to students, including an incoming class whose students never made it to the school.
A spokeswoman for the attorney general said this week that the investigation is ongoing. She declined to elaborate.
State regulators are also still dealing with the repercussions. A committee formed by the Board of Higher Education and led by Gabrieli is developing a type of “stress test” metric to identify schools that are struggling before they combust. Gabrieli said private colleges are resisting the idea of new measures, but at the same time, other states are interested in adopting similar precautions.
Former professors are in perhaps the most uncertain spot. Jeff Marshall, a former art professor who taught full time there, said he probably won’t get a job until next fall because of the timetable of the academic hiring process.
He has been able to use his months of unemployment pay and severance to work on his art, but he is worried about next year. So far he has just one adjunct job lined up for the spring. His biggest concern is health care.
“If I wasn’t optimistic, I would be a little terrified of 2019,” Marshall said.