Becker College To Close At End Of School Year; Pandemic Partly To Blame

WORCESTER, Mass. (State House News Service) — Becker College, a 1,700-student school whose budgetary challenges were exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, will close at the end of this academic year, its trustees announced Monday, and area colleges are already scrambling to serve the displaced students.

News of the closure comes less than a month after the Department of Higher Education issued a public notice, in keeping with a 2019 state law, cautioning that Becker's financial situation was so precarious that the college was unlikely to sustain full operations through the next school year.

State higher education officials have been working with Becker, which has campuses in Worcester and Leicester, to plan for a potential closure and to develop paths for current students to continue their studies.

The higher education department said it "remains committed to working closely with Becker College to support an orderly closure process to ensure that all available resources are leveraged to support students and staff."

"While any institutional closure is challenging for members of a campus community, Becker College's President and staff have made substantial progress in identifying multiple transfer options for students to continue their degrees with minimal disruption," department officials aid in a statement.

According to Becker, options that its students will be able to pursue to continue their studies include programs at public colleges and universities -- Worcester State University, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, UMass Amherst, Quinsigamond Community College, Mount Wachusett Community College and Fitchburg State University -- as well as local private ones, including Clark University, Assumption University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and those further afield, like Medaille College in New York, New England College in New Hampshire, and Champlain College in Vermont.

"We want to ensure that no one is left behind because of circumstances beyond their control," Quinsigamond President Luis Pedraja said. "We worked diligently on this transfer/MOU agreement and while this agreement does not include all programs at Becker, we will endeavor to enroll and support all transfer students and those who were considering Becker in the fall."

Pedraja described Becker as "one of the oldest institutes of higher education in our region" and said it has "made a profound and lasting impression on our community and many QCC transfer students."

UMass Dartmouth is holding informational sessions for Becker students and families every night this week via Zoom.

Worcester's Clark University plans to establish the Becker School of Design & Technology, which the university said will allow "one of Becker College's most renowned programs to remain within the city" and give students a venue to continue studies in game design, esports management and integrated graphic design.

Becker's spring semester will continue as planned, ending with a May 8 graduation.

Board of Trustees Chair Christine Cassidy wrote in a message on behalf of the board that the decision to close was a painful one. Enrollment drops in 2018 and 2019 led to spending cuts and austerity measures, including staff reductions and "rollbacks in compensation," renegotiated contracts, consolidation of departments and the sale of assets, she said.

The COVID-19 crisis "quickly accelerated the need to take more aggressive actions necessary to maintain a reasonable and responsible balance sheet" as Becker incurred new costs associated with remote learning technology and took revenue hits from students declining to live on campus, taking leaves of absence or dropping out, the message said.

"We pushed ourselves to develop scenarios in which Becker remained open for another year and beyond. However, those scenarios included more debt, selling assets, and further cutting operations. Guided by the advice of our auditors and other expert consultants, we concluded that this would be irresponsible and unsustainable over time," Cassidy said in a statement. "As devastating as closing this 237-year-old institution is, we want this closure process to be one that conveys the maximum possible respect and support for everyone whose lives and careers we know it will affect."

Cassidy said Becker "sought various strategic opportunities including mergers or affiliations with other organizations to help us gain our financial footing."

"We had hoped that an alliance would be transformational, while generating revenue and assisting in optimizing the College's resources," she wrote. "When this affiliation did not happen earlier this year, the continuing pandemic and its obvious impact on the College's financial condition caused a sudden and significant shift in our position."

Becker officials said in a press release that they will help faculty and staff find new career opportunities and will refund tuition deposits paid for fall 2021. The college plans to provide academic, support and transitional services through Aug. 31.

By Katie Lannan, State House News Service

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