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.
Assistant General Counsel
2020 – Present
Between 2014 and 2022, 24 colleges and universities in the Commonwealth have closed or merged with other institutions of higher education or began the process of winding down operations. 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.
Most recently, at its October 18, 2022 meeting, BHE completed its implementation of An Act to Support Improved Financial Stability in Higher Education (Ch. 113 Mass. Acts 2019) by voting (BHE 23-12) to adopt final amendments to 610 CMR 13.00 and endorse the DHE Surety Calculation Worksheet, both of which implement the following two unique, substantive sections of the new law: an institution’s obligation to furnish a bond with surety or a letter of credit sufficient to meet the costs of refunding deposits made by students in anticipation of enrolling or continuing their enrollment at the institution and for the cost of protecting and maintaining student records (M.G.L. c. 69 § 31B(b)(3)); and the Department’s ability to levy fines on institutions for legal non-compliances, including the institutions’ attendant appeal rights (M.G.L. c. 69 § 31B(c)).
For any further updates on the timing of the FARM process, please monitor this webpage and contact our office if you have any questions or concerns.
Private institutions of higher education are screened on an annual basis to identify institutions potentially at risk of imminent closure.
November - April
Institutions that may be at risk of imminent closure provide any risk mitigation plans to the DHE for review and evaluation.
June - October
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 (which includes a student deposit refund plan and student records maintenance plan), post a bond with surety or letter of credit to guarantee student deposit refunds and student record preservation, and notify the public.
November - December (contingency closure plans)
November & Ongoing (continued monitoring)
Below is a compilation of public notifications related to the financial condition and/or risk of imminent closure of Massachusetts institutions of higher education.
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 (Chapter 113 of the Acts of 2019), IHEs must:
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.
Training Schedule: Pursuant to M.G.L. c. 69, § 31B(e), “each member of an institution’s governing body shall receive instruction and training in higher education financial metrics, legal and fiduciary responsibilities, and applicable standards for accreditation at least once every four (4) years.” As such, public higher education trustees must 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Training Schedule: Pursuant to M.G.L. c. 69, § 31B(e) and 610 CMR 13.07, “each member of an institution’s governing body shall receive instruction and training in higher education financial metrics, legal and fiduciary responsibilities, and applicable standards for accreditation at least once every four (4) years.” As such, 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 12 months of appointment. For additional questions regarding private higher education trustee trainings, you may contact Alexander Nally via email at email@example.com.
Annual Certification: All private institutions of higher education must annually report progress in meeting trustee training requirements (610 CMR 13.07(3)), including the BHE timeframes, for their respective trustees; and submit as part of the certification process (610 CMR 13.09) 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:
The training is free.
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).
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.
No. Attendees will be able to pause and return to the recorded training session as needed.
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.
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.