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Strategic Initiatives

Financial Assessment & Risk Monitoring

Overview

The Massachusetts Board of Higher Education (BHE) is required by statute and regulation to annually assess the financial information of private institutions of higher education for the purpose of identifying and monitoring institutions at risk of imminent closure, and mitigating the impacts of closures on students, their families, faculty, staff, and the community.

Contact

Alexander Nally
Assistant General Counsel
(617) 994-6955
DHE.FARMSubmissions@mass.gov

Duration

2020 – Present

Funding

N/A

Related Data

 

 

Student Identities
Related Initiatives

 

Background

Between 2014 and 2020, 18 colleges and universities in the Commonwealth have closed or merged with other institutions of higher education. In response to the sudden closure of Mount Ida College in 2018, the BHE convened a working group to determine how the Board and Department of Higher Education (DHE) could better serve students of the Commonwealth and mitigate the impact of future institutional closures. The Transitions in Higher Education: Safeguarding the Interests of Students (THESIS) working group first convened in the summer of 2018, and its final report was accepted by the BHE at its January 22, 2019 meeting. Since that time, new legislation has been enacted, and the BHE has promulgated new regulations, both of which build upon the recommendations of the THESIS working group and mandate that the BHE and DHE annually assess the fiscal health of all private institutions of higher education located in Massachusetts to ascertain an institution’s risk of imminent closure and to attempt to minimize the disruption of such a closure to the institution’s constituencies, particularly students. The entire process is referred to as the Financial Assessment and Risk Monitoring (FARM) process.

At its April 8, 2020 meeting, the BHE approved an implementation plan which authorized the Commissioner to move forward with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) and implementation procedures for 610 CMR 13.00. The terms of the MOU, which has since been finalized, provide that NECHE will conduct the financial screenings of those private institutions of higher education which it accredits in accordance with 610 CMR 13.00 and M.G.L. c. 69 § 31B, and it will forward the results of the screenings to the DHE for evaluation and follow-up. The implementation procedures provide additional detail and guidance on certain elements of the FARM process. In addition, the compilation document includes all relevant Board of Higher Education Meeting Minutes, Motions and Presentations related to both THESIS and FARM work in chronological order.

For updates on the timing of the FARM process, please monitor this webpage and contact our office if you have any questions or concerns.

Authority, Guidance and Resources

Below is a collection of statutes, regulations, implementation procedures, communications and other relevant BHE materials that include sources of statutory and regulatory authority, guidance on implementation and compliance, and a historical record of the FARM statute’s implementation.

Statute

Regulations

Implementation Procedures

Commissioner Communications and Interpretive Guidance

Compilation of relevant BHE Materials, Minutes and Motions


FARM Review Process

PHASE 1

Screening

What?

Private institutions of higher education are screened on an annual basis to identify institutions potentially at risk of imminent closure.


When?

November - April


PHASE 2

Review

What?

Institutions that may be at risk of imminent closure provide any risk mitigation plans to the DHE for review and evaluation.


When?

June - October


PHASE 3

Determination

What?

Institutions not at risk of imminent closure with sufficient mitigation plans continue to be monitored for progress. Institutions without sufficient mitigation plans may be required to develop a contingency closure plan, or notify the public.


When?

November - December (contingency closure plans)
November & Ongoing (continued monitoring)

Public Notifications

Below is a compilation of public notifications related to the financial condition and/or risk of imminent closure of Massachusetts institutions of higher education.

Notifications Issued by the Department of Higher Education

  • Becker College: On March 29, 2021, the Becker College Board of Trustees notified the Department that it will permanently cease academic programming at the end of the current academic year and will provide support and transitional services to students through August 31, 2021. The statement from Becker College is available here, and Becker College will continue to post information for students at beckercollegenextsteps.com. The Department has also issued a statement available here, and will continue to provide updates at www.mass.edu/becker.
    • Note: This announcement followed a statement from the Department on March 2, 2021, regarding the financial condition of Becker College. At that time, DHE provided notice that, “owing in large part to the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19), Becker College’s financial situation has become sufficiently uncertain such that the Department of Higher Education (Department) believes that the institution is unlikely to sustain full operations through the next academic year.” Read the full statement here.
  • Pine Manor College: On April 6, 2020 the DHE issued a joint public statement with the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) and Pine Manor College regarding Pine Manor's financial conditions. The statement provides, in relevant part, that "owing to the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the College's financial situation has become uncertain, such that It cannot confirm that It can sustain full operations at the current levels beyond the current academic year." As noted in the statement, the Department is working with the institution to ensure that, in the event the Institution Is unable to sustain full operations within the next 18 months, students will have opportunities to transfer to another Institution of higher education with minimal disruption to their education. Read the full statement here.

Notifications Issued by Accreditors

Reporting Obligations for Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs)

All private IHEs located and operating in the Commonwealth should also note that the legislature recently imposed two new affirmative reporting requirements. Under the new state law, An Act to Support Improved Financial Stability in Higher Education, St. 2019 c.113, IHEs must:

  1. Notify the Board of Higher Education of known financial liabilities or risks: Pursuant to M.G.L. c. 69, § 31B(b)(1), IHEs must “immediately notify the [Board of Higher Education] of any known financial liabilities or risks that are reasonably likely to result in the imminent closure of the institution or otherwise negatively affect the institution’s ability to fulfill its obligations to current and admitted students.”
  2. This obligation is outside of and in addition to the requirements for financial screening and risk mitigation assessment. Institutions that need to make such a notification to the BHE can do so by emailing the Commissioner at DHE.FARMSubmissions@mass.gov. Such notifications are exempt from public records law and will be maintained as confidential in accordance with state law. M.G.L. c. 69, § 31B(d).
  3. Post annual financial reports, along with a summary: Pursuant to M.G.L. c. 69 § 31B(f), IHEs must “post on its website a copy of the institution’s annual financial report or statement, required pursuant to section 8F of chapter 12 and a summary of the report, however termed, that is written in terms that are understandable by the general public.” The summary should include key narrative descriptions and explanations of the financial statements, such as the Independent Auditor’s Report and Management’s Discussion and Analysis.

 

Trustee Training Requirements for All IHEs

Through an amendment to the BHE’s enabling legislation, recently enacted state law has created mandatory trustee training requirements for members of the boards of trustees of both public and private higher education institutions. This law is integral to ensuring boards’ success in actively monitoring and engaging with campus leadership, as it will enable trustees to receive the information necessary for exemplar postsecondary education governance in Massachusetts. The law imposes different requirements for public and private higher education institutions. Below are some highlights from those requirements, and next steps for implementing the Trustee Training Implementation Guidelines and Framework, as voted on by the BHE and amended on October 20, 2020.

Public Higher Education Trustees

Training Schedule: Under the new state law, public higher education trusteesmust complete the BHE instruction and training program at least once every 4 years. The BHE instruction and training program is offered online, free of charge, in synchronous sessions that will be held periodically throughout the year. Information regarding future scheduled trainings will be shared through this website as details become available. Asynchronous components are under development, for rollout during FY2022.  If a board of trustees’ member fails to complete the training program within the BHE’s established schedule, their membership shall terminate, and the member’s seat shall be deemed vacant. Limited extensions due only to exigent circumstances may be granted. For additional questions regarding public higher education trustee trainings, you may contact Matt Noyes via email at mnoyes@dhe.mass.edu.

Next Steps: The BHE requires that currently sitting public higher education trustees must complete the full training program by November 1, 2021. This includes all trustees who have begun or will begin their appointment between July 1, 2020 – June 30, 2021. Thereafter, all newly appointed future public higher education trustees must complete the training program within 6 months of appointment.

Annual Certification: DHE staff will track and annually certify trustee completion of the program and compliance with the statutory requirements.

Private Higher Education Trustees

Training Schedule: Under the new state law, private higher education trustees must receive instruction and training in higher education financial metrics, legal and fiduciary responsibilities and applicable standards for accreditation at least once every 4 years. These trainings must be arranged for and funded by the private institutions.

Next Steps: Under the new law, and the BHE’s guidelines, currently sitting private higher education trustees must receive training by November 14, 2023. However, the BHE expects all sitting trustees in key leadership roles (e.g., board chairs, vice chairs, chairs of key committees) to receive training by November 1, 2021. This timeline provides 4 years from the enactment date of the new state law for private institutions to deliver training to members of their governing bodies; and includes all trustees who were appointed by October 20, 2020. Thereafter, all newly appointed future private higher education trustees are expected to receive training within 6 to 12 months of appointment.  For additional questions regarding private higher education trustee trainings, you may contact Alexander Nally via email at alex.nally@dhe.mass.edu.

Annual Certification: All private institutions of higher education must annually report progress in meeting trustee training requirements, including the BHE timeframes, for their respective trustees; and submit as part of the certification process their proposed training agenda/curriculum. Completion of the annual certification (reporting) process will be a condition of renewing the private institution’s agreement with the Office of Student Financial Assistance (OSFA) to participate in state financial aid programs.

Training Opportunity for private higher education trustees: On January 26, 2021 The Boston Consortium (TBC) offered a private higher education trustee training that meets the requirements of the new law. The training is now available online at https://www.boston-consortium.org/trustee-webinar-access-form/. Please find additional information and answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the TBC training below:

What does the TBC training cost?

The training is free.

Is there a limit on how many board members can view the training?

No

Can non-board members access the training?

The training is open to all board members and institutional affiliates (e.g. agents, personnel, and counsel that work for the institution or advise the institution on how to comply with the new law).

Do board members need to notify the DHE when they have completed the training?

No. The DHE requires institutions (i.e. presidents and institutional staff) to annually certify which board members were trained that year and to describe the training that they received. At no point in time is any board member required to notify the DHE when they have completed a training, and we do not anticipate any need for a board member to interact with the DHE regarding the trustee training requirement.

Does the training need to be viewed in one 3.5 hour session?

No. Attendees will be able to pause and return to the recorded training session as needed.

If a board member received training offered before the training requirement became law in November 2019, can it still count?

Most likely, no. The criteria set forth in the statute did not exist prior to its enactment, and we are not aware of a widely-available training offered prior to November 2019 that meets the new law’s training requirements.  TBC’s October 2019 trustee training does not sufficiently meet the new law's training requirements. If your trustees participated in a non-TBC training prior to November 2019 that you believe may meet the legal training requirements, please contact us with additional information.

Is there a process for institutions to submit trainings other than the TBC training to be deemed sufficient under the new law?

No. At this time, the DHE does not have a process in place to approve additional trainings. As part of the annual FARM report, institutions will be required to provide DHE with any agenda or training materials used to train their board members and to certify that those materials meet the requirements of the new law and the Board's guidelines, which are available above. While institutions concerned about the compliance of their trustee training with the statutory requirements are encouraged to utilize the free training currently offered by TBC, institutions may also utilize other training programs or develop their own if they so choose, at their own discretion. It is the responsibility of the institution to ensure that the training(s) attended by its trustees meet all of the required criteria under the new law.