What new regs on college closures do
Keep in mind the incredible value of a college education
MASSACHUSETTS IS THE FIRST STATE in the nation to protect students and their families from the seismic disruption that occurs when a college or university suddenly closes. The bill and related regulations, adopted just last week, were carefully drafted, as they should be, to not damage inadvertently the dozens and dozens of institutions that comprise what is arguably this state’s most important economic driver.
Legislative leaders and Gov. Charlie Baker were wise to craft legislation and regulations that will prevent the kind of turmoil that occurred 20 months ago when Mount Ida College suddenly closed its doors, but crucially protects colleges and universities from situations that could kill institutions with unfounded concerns about closure.
The new law will require higher education institutions to tell the Board of Higher Education of any financial circumstances that could signal a college’s potential closure, or an impending inability to meet obligations to students. It will require trustee training and transparent posting of audited financial statements for all Massachusetts colleges, public and private alike. And, importantly, the process envisioned by the legislation and regulations leverages the resources and expertise of the region’s federally-recognized accreditation agency, The New England Commission of Higher Education. The commission’s accreditation process ensures the protection from the unintended public disclosure of sensitive data – disclosure that could unnecessarily frighten off parents, students, donors, and applicants from an institution that, like so many in the past and present, is simply going through a period of strategic and thoughtful adjustment.
For all the attention higher education is facing relative to demographic changes, and questions about the value proposition of college, most institutions are able to adapt to meet these new challenges.
One, higher education is the best economic investment an individual or a family can make. The US Census Bureau determined that lifetime earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree were $1 million higher than earnings for someone whose education ended with high school. Graduates with a master’s degree fared even better, earning an average of $1.4 million more. But obviously, it is not simply a matter of dollars: A Pew Research study confirms what we know from common sense – that college graduates find work more satisfying, are far less likely to be unemployed, and quite simply are happier and healthier.
There is also a macro-economic reason we should care that Baker and legislative leaders were careful to protect colleges from undue alarm over potential closures: Jobs, taxes, patents, new businesses. Our universities and colleges are the reasons the world’s best hospitals and high tech and biotech firms are here. Again, do not forget the direct economics: $10.2 billion in payroll and benefits, nearly 100,000 high paying jobs, $2.6 billion in sponsored research, and talented students and researchers from around the globe who provide our cities and small towns with a vibrant hum.Like every enterprise in every sector, there are going to be ventures that continue and thrive, and those that do not. Now we have a sensible law that helps to ensure that another Mount Ida fiasco never happens again, while also protecting universities and colleges, their students and staff – and our Commonwealth.
Richard Doherty is president of the Association for Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts, representing 57 independent colleges and universities throughout the Commonwealth.