Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker signed into law Thursday an act increasing state regulators’ authority to monitor colleges’ and universities’ financial strength and requiring institutions at risk of closing to file contingency plans for students.
Momentum for the new law built after Mount Ida College surprised students by closing on short notice in spring 2018. Afterward, lawmakers closely scrutinized the college’s decisions and what many saw as inadequate plans for students to finish their degrees. Regulators grappled with the best way to make changes for a future in which colleges and universities are expected to be under increasing enrollment and financial pressure.
The new law puts the state Board of Higher Education in charge of creating an annual process for screening colleges and identifying any at risk of soon closing. Leaders have been encouraging the department to work with Massachusetts’ regional accreditor instead of doing the screening on its own.
The board can now vote on regulations governing how it will exercise oversight authority. A vote is expected in December.
In addition, the board is to create a program to train trustees about governing a college or university. Laws about open meetings, public records, state procurement and state finance are to be covered, as are fraud prevention and fiduciary responsibilities.
“While we do not want to see any college or university close its doors, it is important to ensure sufficient notice to students and staff to make arrangements if the institution where they study or work is at high risk of closure, so they can complete their studies with as little disruption as possible, or have sufficient time to find new employment,” Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito said in a statement.