In Massachusetts, closing colleges are fast becoming a problem.
In April, Mount Ida College announced it would close its campus and merge with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The school struggled financially for months before it decided to finally close its doors. The decision left hundreds of students without a clear path to finish their degree – many of them also have student loan debt.
According to the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, Carlos E. Santiago, this is hardly a new problem, Mass Live reported. Santiago claims many colleges are currently facing a crisis of limited funding and lack of participants. This is concerning for any state that hopes to maintain an educated workforce.
During Santiago’s visit to Western Massachusetts, he stopped by Springfield Technical Community College. During his time there, he participated in a panel discussion with several higher education officials.
"In the last five years, we've had 15 Mount Ida’s," Santiago added, although he added most of those incidents weren’t as widely publicized.
According to Santiago, the Mount Ida closing received a lot of press because it happened so suddenly and left many of its 1,500 students in the lurch. Most of the other schools that closed gave his office advance notice and were able to consolidate without closing their campuses.
But this is a problem that extends beyond just Massachusetts. For instance, Connecticut consolidated all of its community colleges into one system across multiple campuses. Maine was also able to consolidate its public university system without shutting down any campuses.
Santiago, who previously served as chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said this might be the most challenging time for higher learning that he’s seen in his 30-year career.
He claims that this problem is caused by a declining population of college-aged students. At the same time, an aging generation of baby boomers has left gaps in the workforce.
Although the Massachusetts community colleges have seen a decline in students, state universities have maintained steady enrollment numbers. UMass, the five-campus public university system, continues to grow largely due to foreign and out-of-state students.
To address this issue, Santiago argued that high schools need to do a better job of preparing students for college life, especially minority students. He said UMass, the state colleges, and the community colleges need to do a better job of coordinating their efforts. He added that programs that let high school students earn college credits have proven to be beneficial.
If a college closes down, students might be able to get their loans discharged – but the U.S. Department of Education has been trying to roll back such protections. Former students of shuttered for-profit Corinthian Colleges were recently in court, fighting to get their student loans discharged. Whether student loan discharge in general becomes more attainable is still a murky prospect; however, in recent news, a bill went up to a vote that would improve the chances of discharge in bankruptcy for private student loans.