MA Department of Higher Education
For Immediate Release
June 18, 2019
Proposed regulations would annually screen for ability of colleges to financially sustain operations for the upcoming 18 months
Boston, MA - June 18, 2019 - The Massachusetts Board of Higher Education (BHE) has authorized the Commissioner of Higher Education to solicit public comment on proposed regulations to annually screen and monitor the financial stability of independent colleges and universities in the Commonwealth, with the goal of protecting students from the extraordinary disruption caused by abrupt institutional closures.
The proposed regulations apply to all Massachusetts-based, independent institutions that are authorized by the BHE to grant degrees and/or eligible to receive state aid. If approved by the BHE, they would establish standards and processes to allow the Board (through the Commissioner and Department of Higher Education staff) to screen, monitor and work with institutions to develop contingency plans for closure and timely notification of students, families and staff. The Department would use December 1 as an annual “threshold” date to determine whether an independent college or university has the financial capability to complete the current and subsequent school years over an 18-month time frame. If the Department determines that an institution is “at risk of imminent closure,” the Commissioner may require it to submit a contingency closure plan and notify students, faculty and other stakeholders of its financial condition.
In addition to the proposed regulations Governor Charlie Baker filed legislation, S. 2138, An Act to Support Improved Financial Stability in Higher Education, to further enhance the BHE’s oversight and to safeguard confidentiality during the screening and monitoring process.
“The Board and the Department of Higher Education will be a more proactive participant in ensuring transparency and fairness for students and families, without creating expansive new powers that would be overly burdensome to colleges,” Education Secretary James Peyser said.
“Our regulatory response to institutional closure needs to become more proactive if we are to truly safeguard the interests of the public,” said Carlos E. Santiago, Commissioner of Higher Education.“We have seen one too many instances of colleges shutting down without adequate notice and leaving students without a clear pathway to completing their education. This is unfair to them and their communities, and is also disruptive to the Commonwealth, which relies on a steady, reliable stream of college graduates to meet the needs of our high-skilled economy.”
The proposed regulations align with the recommendations put forth by the Transitions in Higher Education: Safeguarding the Interests of Students (THESIS) Working Group, which were refined through informal vetting with key stakeholders, including representatives from private higher education institutions and accreditors. The regulations would allow for:
The regulations would also clarify the Department of Higher Education’s authority to impose sanctions on any institution that fails to comply with the steps outlined above, including the termination of its eligibility to receive state aid, or suspension or revocation of the institution’s degree-granting authority.
“Higher education is a crown jewel of Massachusetts. While we are encouraged that some private college Boards and leaders and the regional accreditor are also reacting to address risk, the public needs to know that the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education is able to proactively identify schools at risk of disruptive closures and where necessary take action in to protect students, families, faculty and staff and host communities,” Board Chairman Chris Gabrieli said. “The results of all of these efforts should be a stronger higher education system and higher public confidence in institutions’ financial stability.”
The Department of Higher Education will schedule two to three hearings to allow for public comment on the regulations in early August. The dates, times and locations of the hearing will be posted on website. The final regulations will be brought to the BHE for approval and promulgation at the conclusion of the public comment period and prior to the start of the new academic year in the fall.