“Hardworking students and families should have confidence in the level of transparency and accountability at their college or university,” said Senator Moore, who formerly served as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education. “It’s important that the stewards of our public higher education institutions are equipped with the appropriate tools and training needed to carry out their duties in a responsible manner, and to share information about their institution’s financial stability.”
Among its provisions, the legislation seeks to address issues surrounding the closure of higher education institutions by requiring annual financial reports from public colleges and universities. Under the bill, the Board of Higher Education (BHE) is tasked with creating an assessment system to examine whether an institution is at risk of imminent closure and, if so, the institution is required to prepare a contingency plan for closure.
Higher education institutions are also required to notify the BHE of any known financial circumstances that may result in closure or the inability to fulfill obligations. Failure to comply with the requirements of the legislation may result in the imposition of penalties by BHE.
In an effort to help ensure that college and university trustees understand their legal, fiduciary and ethical obligations under the law, the legislation requires the Department of Higher Education to develop a training program on topics critical to the proper oversight of a public institution of higher education. Relevant topics may include fraud prevention, the open meeting law, fiduciary responsibilities, ethical procurement and state finance law. Trustees would be required to complete the training every four years.
The legislation was filed in direct response to several widely-reported situations including last year’s sudden closure of Mount Ida College which surprised hundreds of current and incoming students. In 2015, the Westfield State University president was also found to have inappropriately spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of Westfield State funds on lavish trips and meals. Subsequent investigations revealed a lack of proper oversight by the University’s board of trustees as a contributing factor that led to the improper expenses.
In early October, the bill unanimously passed the Massachusetts House of Representatives. It now returns to that chamber for further consideration. To continue tracking the legislation, S.2387, visit the Legislature’s website, www.MAlegislature.gov.