In the latest blow to the struggling school, Hampshire College has been put on notice that it is in danger of losing its accreditation.
The New England Commission of Higher Education regional this week told the Amherst liberal arts school, known for its alternative curriculum and free-spirited students, that it may be placed on academic probation because of concerns over its governance and finances. The school has until May 30 to submit evidence for why it should stay accredited.
Hampshire has been in an uproar since January, when former president Miriam Nelson unexpectedly announced a financial crisis at the school and said it wanted to merge with another “strategic partner.”
The unexpected announcement triggered outrage from students, staff, faculty, and alumni that was compounded when trustees announced, a few weeks later, that they would not admit a freshman class for this fall.
As uncertainty about the school’s future continued this spring, several trustees, including the chairwoman, resigned. Then two weeks ago, Nelson stepped down, too, saying her leadership had become polarizing and a distraction.
The college appointed former college treasurer Ken Rosenthal, one of the school’s founders, as interim president. The trustees also voted not to merge and instead raise money in order to stay independent.
“We are confident that we will continue to uphold [accreditors’] standards,” Rosenthal said in a statement.
He said the school is in the midst of fund-raising and downsizing. “We welcome this opportunity . . . to present our plans as we restructure and financially reinvigorate the college,” he said.
If Hampshire is placed on probation, it will have two years to correct the problems that accreditors cite. If it loses accreditation, the school’s students will no longer be able to receive federal student loans, and the school will be ineligible for other types of federal funding. Since the abrupt, unexpected closure of Mount Ida College last year, the agency has become more aggressive in monitoring schools’ financial well-being.