Worcester's Becker College is facing a precarious enough financial situation that officials at the Department of Higher Education believe the school "is unlikely to sustain full operations through the next academic year" and have engaged in contingency planning in case of a closure.
A Tuesday statement from the department and the New England Commission of Higher Education attributed Becker's financial uncertainty largely to the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis and said the college's trustees have "been meeting regularly to explore all reasonable options and determine how best they can leverage all available resources to help support a plan that prioritizes the best interests of students, faculty, and staff."
"As stewards of Becker College, the Board of Trustees has been working to
examine a number of challenges facing higher education, including the decline of
college-age students, the increased cost of providing a high-quality education and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic," Becker Board of Trustees chair Christine Cassidy said in a statement. "We have been undergoing a thoughtful process of evaluating the impact of these forces on our College and considering every option."
Becker College charges a full-time annual tuition of $37,850 for the 2021-2022 school year, with about 1,700 enrolled students, according to information on its website.
The higher education department said it's working with the college to develop contingency plans that will "ensure students will have opportunities to transfer to other institutions of higher education with minimal disruption to their education" if Becker does not sustain its operations at or near current levels next school year.
A law Gov. Charlie Baker signed in 2019 requires colleges and universities in Massachusetts to immediately notify higher education officials of any financial situation that's likely to result in their closure or an inability to fulfill obligations to current or admitted students. Schools facing a closure risk need to submit a contingency plan, including measures for providing advance notice to students and staff.
The update around Becker College's finances marks the second time the department and NECHE have published a notice on a school's financial conditions and risk of potential closure.
The two agencies released a joint statement on April 6, 2020 advising that Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill could not "confirm that it can sustain full operations at the current levels beyond the current academic year." The following month, Pine Manor and Boston College announced a deal under which BC would assume responsibility for the smaller school, its assets and liabilities, and Pine Manor students would be able to remain there in a teach-out agreement for up to two years.
The state's college-closure law came about after the abrupt shuttering of Mount Ida College in 2018 blindsided students and faculty who were left scrambling for opportunities to continue their studies or careers. UMass Amherst purchased the Mount Ida campus in Newton.
Responding to the Becker College news, University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan said that higher education as a whole "faces an unprecedented period of disruption caused by a decline in the number of high school graduates and accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic" and that the UMass system "stands ready to work with other colleges and universities and the Board of Higher Education to make sure students have opportunities to complete their educations in as seamless a manner as possible."
"As the state's land grant public research university, creating access and opportunity for students is a central part of our mission," Meehan said in a statement. "About 20 percent of our graduates begin their UMass education as transfer students. UMass has experience and expertise in helping displaced students and we are proud of our record supporting students in these situations."