Governor Signs Legislation to Protect Students and Families from Abrupt College Closures
BOSTON – This past week, Governor Charlie Baker joined Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, Senate President Karen Spilka, Secretary of Education Jim Peyser, Senator Anne Gobi, Representative Jeff Roy, the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts (AICUM), and SEIU Local 509 to sign An Act to Support Improved Financial Stability in Higher Education (H4099) which will clarify and enhance the authority of the Board of Higher Education to monitor the financial health of Massachusetts’ colleges and universities.
This legislation requires any institution facing financial challenges that may jeopardize the institution’s ability to fulfill its obligations to current and admitted students to notify the Board of Higher Education, as well as submit a contingency plan for approval that includes arrangements for students to complete their studies.
“Massachusetts is home to some of the world’s most impressive public and private colleges and universities that also serve as major employers and drivers of business across the Commonwealth,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “We are very pleased to have worked alongside the Legislature to sign this important bill into law that will protect students and families from sudden college closures, while also guaranteeing those institutions confidentiality as the Department of Higher Education works with them to understand their financial status.”
“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,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “This legislation will better protect students, families and higher education professionals.”
In March 2019, Governor Baker filed legislation to enhance the authority of the Board of Higher Education to monitor the financial health of Massachusetts’ colleges and universities. Under this legislation, colleges and universities shall immediately notify the Board of Higher Education of any known financial liabilities or risks which are reasonably likely to result in the imminent closure of the institution, or negatively affect the institution’s ability to fulfill its obligations to current or admitted students. The institution would be required to submit to the Board for approval a contingency plan that includes provisions for providing advance notice to students and staff.
“Through this legislation, the Board and Department of Higher Education can ensure transparency for students and families without being overly burdensome to colleges,” said Education Secretary James Peyser.
"We're especially pleased to see the votes on this legislation passing the House and Senate unanimously in recent weeks," said Carlos E. Santiago, Commissioner of Higher Education. "It is a sign of the deep levels of support for our work to monitor institutional finances with the goal of making sure that all students have the ability to complete their programs of study and pursue meaningful careers of their choice."
"Massachusetts has a global reputation for excellence in higher education, and it's essential for all of us to work together to sustain and burnish public confidence in our colleges and universities," said Chris Gabrieli, Chair of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education.
The Board of Higher Education will be responsible for establishing an annual process for screening every college and university to assess its financial condition, and to identify any institution that may be at risk of imminent closure. The Department of Higher Education is encouraged to work with the regional accrediting agency to conduct these annual screenings, in lieu of doing the screening itself.
The Board of Higher Education will also establish a training program for members of boards of trustees of public institutions of higher education on the proper governance of an institution of higher education. The instruction will include an overview of open meeting, public records, state procurement laws and state finance provisions established under state law, along with fraud prevention and fiduciary responsibilities.
The legislation signed today paves the way for the Board of Higher Education to vote on regulations by which it will exercise its oversight authority, expected at its December Board meeting.
“I am proud we have taken this important step as a Commonwealth towards furthering transparency and providing stability in our higher education station system,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka. “No student’s degree aspirations or financial resources should ever be put in limbo due to the sudden closure of their school.”
“Today we’ve taken action to protect students, families, and staff of our higher education institutions by increasing the transparency of the financial health of institutions – requiring stronger oversight, reporting and accountability,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. “Thank you to the Higher Education Committee Chairs Jeffrey Roy and Anne Gobi for their diligent work on this legislation and for the support of House Ways and Means Chair Michlewitz and Representative Kenneth Gordon on these issues.”
“In the wake of the Mount Ida closure last year, I heard from an extraordinary amount of people who were negatively affected and asked that the legislature take steps to protect students, faculty, and staff,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues, Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “I applaud the Baker-Polito Administration for supporting measures such as the development of student-focused contingency plans for public colleges and universities expected to close. This legislation will help to bring stability and transparency to our institutions of higher learning.”
“Today is a good day for students, faculty, staff, and the Commonwealth,” said Senator Anne M. Gobi, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education. “We have shown, in a bipartisan manner, that our institutions of higher learning are important and their stability is necessary. Through these efforts, if problems arise they can be detected early with a set, transparent process in place that will safeguard our students and offer them a path to continue their higher education.
“This is a great day for students and their families, and this legislation will provide transparency and restore confidence in our Higher Education institutions,” said Representative Jeff Roy, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education. “The strength of our colleges and universities is paramount to our success as a commonwealth, as it promotes civic discourse and drives economic opportunity. When students and their families invest in their future, they deserve to know that their institution stands on a solid foundation. Through this legislation, the state will be a partner in providing transparency and accountability to promote resiliency and financial stability, and to ensure that our students have access to the opportunities that they need, that they can count on, and that deliver for the long-term strength of our state.”
“We are fortunate to have vibrant private colleges across the Commonwealth that graduate tens of thousands of students each year who go on to contribute to the Massachusetts economy,” said AICUM. “Today’s legislation will help ensure that our colleges and universities continue to educate our students, employ our residents, further important research and enhance our host communities. I want to thank Governor Baker, Secretary Peyser, Commissioner Santiago, Senate President Spilka and House Speaker DeLeo for working collaboratively with AICUM to develop a process that utilizes the expertise and experience of the regional accrediting agency to annually screen our institutions and ensures confidentially to colleges and universities as they participate in the screening process.”