College Closure Bill passes House; Arciero speaks on House Floor

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State Rep. James Arciero, House Vice-chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education, spoke on the House floor, on Oct. 2, in support of House Bill 4099: An Act To Support Improved Financial Stability In Higher Education.

The bill passed the House of Representatives 152 to zero and will now head to the state Senate for consideration.

A product of four separate bills, the omnibus College Closure Bill seeks to address college and university closures in Massachusetts stemming from financial problems.   The closures, which often occur without notice to students, their families and the faculty and staff of the institution, can negatively impact the higher education plans of enrolled students.

In his floor remarks, Arciero stated, “Last year, the students of Mount Ida College were surprised to learn their college was closing without any previous notification.”

Arciero said the closure affected about 1,500 students, including the daughter of one of his constituents. The students’ well-planned academic lives were turned on their heads, he said.

“This legislation addresses this matter so that no other student should ever have to face a similar situation in the future,” Arciero said.

The bill would require that the members of the boards of trustees in both public and private colleges and universities receive comprehensive training on proper governance of higher education institutions.  In addition, they would receive training in the state’s open meeting law, public records law, state procurement procedures, conflict of interest laws, fraud prevention, as well as in legal and fiduciary responsibilities. This training would be developed by the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, in consultation with the offices of the Attorney General and Inspector General, and would be repeated every 4 years.

“The students of the Commonwealth deserve to have the confidence and knowledge that the schools they are attending are financially sound and that the board of trustees of each institution are properly trained,” said Arciero in his prepared remarks.

The provisions of the bill also calls for:

-yearly independent audits and a financial report summary of each college and university to be publicly distributed each year.

-reporting of any known financial liabilities or risk which could potential result in a school closure.

-notification of any potential closures to the Board of Higher Education.

-annual financial screenings by the Board of Higher Education of each institution to determine any risks of closure and a reporting of these findings to the institution.

-the preparation of contingency plans for a potential closure which would notify students, faculty, staff and the host community of the situation.

-a system for returning funds to students, the proper maintenance of student records and a comprehensive roadmap for the completion of a student’s higher education would have to be part of any contingency plan.

-penalties of a $1,000 a day, the holding back of state funding support to the institution, and the revocation of degree granting ability for violation of the provisions of the law.

Massachusetts is known for some of the finest public and private colleges and universities in the world, with higher education playing a major role in the education of young adults.  High education also serves as a major employer in the state, and impacts the overall economic and employment of the commonwealth.  In the last five years, Massachusetts has seen the merger or closure of at least 18 institutions in the state, with the 2018 closure of Mt. Ida being the most notable due to its sudden occurrence.

“I believe that the two reform  provisions of training and transparency in this bill will allow our colleges and universities to operate in an open and transparent manner on behalf of the students and families they serve,” said Arciero.