Mount Ida's Troubles Began When It Lost Half The Entering Class Of 2012, Board Chair Tells Legislators

Download Audio
A car drives past the Mount Ida College sign on Carlson Avenue in Newton. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A car drives past the Mount Ida College sign on Carlson Avenue in Newton. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

As the sale of Mount Ida College's Newton campus closed Wednesday, state senators said at a hearing that they may subpoena the president of the now-defunct school because he failed to appear at a hearing on Wednesday.

The hearing, before a state Senate committee, brought together several stakeholders in the deal between Mount Ida and the University of Massachusetts public school system to discuss what led to Mount Ida's decision to close.

One of the biggest takeaways: The college started with decades of deferred maintenance.

"There had been safety issues, accessibility deficiencies, non-functioning building systems, leaks and general deterioration," said Carmin Reiss, chair of Mount Ida's Board of Trustees. "And demonstrating that urgency, a city order closed a dormitory for correction of safety issues. We had to put 300 students in a hotel."

And then something happened with the class that entered in 2012. Reiss said half of them never came back for sophomore year.

"The revenue drop from losing half of the class of 2012 remained a significant problem for a small tuition-dependent college with little endowment to draw upon, and these losses and grew for the three years that that class progressed through to graduation in 2016," she told legislators.

Had Mount Ida not received an $8 million donation — a bridge loan — for a sale of land in 2016, it might not have survived until this year. The college contemplated mergers with several colleges, including Lasell College. When that fell through, Reiss said, the only alternative to bankruptcy became a sale of the campus to UMass Amherst.

The chancellor of UMass Amherst, Kumble Subbaswamy, announced that UMass intends to continue one Mount Ida program, the veterinary tech program, even after all the Mount Ida students graduate.

UMass President Marty Meehan pushed back against the idea that the university is somehow to blame for Mount Ida's demise.

"The notion that UMass had anything to do with Mount Ida closing is just unacceptable," he said.

Mount Ida says 92 percent of its students, 1,074 out of 1,164, have a program they can get into that would be run by UMass, Cape Cod Community College or Regis College.

But students who testified painted a bleaker picture. For example, the attorney general's office says UMass Dartmouth has agreed to continue the program in Interior Architecture & Design for Mount Ida students. But Bridget Horrigan, who was to be a freshman in the program this fall, says that's not what she's been hearing from UMass Dartmouth.

"I have received multiple emails from UMass Dartmouth stating that my major does not align with any of their academic programs and I should start searching for other schools," said Horrigan.

Horrigan said as recently as her college tour in October, Mount Ida was talking of new buildings. She and other students expressed frustration that the college never let on how much trouble it was in. But Reiss said that would have accelerated Mount Ida's demise.

"And they were showing us the plans for expansions and what they were going to be building, new buildings," said Horrigan.

Reiss said that if the college had let on that it was in financial trouble, it would have set off a downward spiral. She said the board deeply regrets the disruption and pain caused by the closure, and said the financial statements were there for everybody to see.

The hearing before the Senate committee comes just one day after Attorney General Maura Healey approved the sale of Mount Ida's 74-acre campus to UMass Amherst. Over the past weekend, the college held its final graduation ceremony.

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story misspelled Carmin Reiss's last name in one instance. We regret the error.

This article was originally published on May 16, 2018.

This segment aired on May 17, 2018.

Earlier Coverage:

Headshot of Fred Thys

Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



More from WBUR

Listen Live