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Hampshire College Is ‘In Danger,’ But Keeps Accreditation

A sign at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts (Courtesy of Diane Lederman/The Republican/MassLive.com)
A sign at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts (Courtesy of Diane Lederman/The Republican/MassLive.com)

An accreditor for higher education institutions will not withdraw the accreditation of financially troubled Hampshire College, or place the western Massachusetts liberal arts college on probation.

For now, at least.

At a May 30 meeting, the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) voted to publicly disclose that Hampshire “is in danger of being found not to meet the standards” for accreditation, a joint statement from NECHE and Hampshire said.

But the accreditation board deferred making a decision on whether it will take action against the school — including possibly placing it on probation or withdrawing its accreditation — until a meeting scheduled for November.

“This is what we asked for. We asked for the time to be able to demonstrate that we can do what they expect of us, and what our community expects of us,” said Ken Rosenthal, Hampshire’s interim president. “This was a good decision, and now it’s up to us to demonstrate that we can do what we say we’re going to do.”

Hampshire officials set a goal to raise $100 million, NECHE President Barbara Brittingham said. According to Rosenthal, the college has raised $7 million since he came aboard as interim president in April, after former president Miriam Nelson stepped down.

When the matter of Hampshire’s accreditation comes before NECHE again in November, the commission will be looking at the specifics, Brittingham said.

“What the commission is looking for is clearer plans, a written plan on how it plans to do that, how it plans to make sure it has a responsible and well-functioning governing board, that it has plans to raise a considerable amount of money … and plans for building enrollment,” Brittingham said. “The commission is going to be looking at, are those plans realistic? And is the college making appropriate progress toward reaching the goals that they’ve set for themselves?”

Brittingham added that Hampshire’s decision in April to lay off about two dozen staff could help the school’s financial position. Dozens of faculty also volunteered to either work part-time, retire or take a leave of absence to teach at another school.

Hampshire’s administration earlier this year decided not to admit a full class for the fall 2019 semester amid financial turmoil. About 15 new students will enroll this fall, Rosenthal said. Those admissions include students accepted via early decision, or had been accepted the previous year, but deferred admission.

This story was first published by New England Public Radio.

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