It was still very much the thick of Eisenhower-era conformity, in 1958, when the presidents of Amherst College, Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst put together a document called The New College Plan. It envisioned a fifth college in the Pioneer Valley that would break from the conventional norms of higher education with a focus on self-directed learning and greater interdisciplinary study.
Twelve years later, the vision matured into reality with the opening of Hampshire College on an 800-acre parcel of former apple orchards and farmland in South Amherst. Now, nearly 50 years after its opening, the once new college is on the ropes. Hampshire announced Tuesday that it is seeking a “strategic partnership” with another higher education institution. While pursuing a merger, Hampshire said it will decide in the coming weeks whether to admit a new class of students for the coming fall.
The school has an enrollment of about 1,400 students. Tuition is $50,000 per year, and room and board adds another $14,000 to the tab, though many students get a sizable discount off that list price.
The college’s innovative approach to learning may be as relevant as ever, maybe even more so in today’s fast-paced era of innovation and disruption of conventions. But small, private liberal-arts colleges, especially those without big endowments that must rely heavily on tuition payments to operate, are a model that looks increasingly unsustainable and subject to those same disruptive forces.
The school’s budget is balanced, and it has a $52 million endowment. But the Hampshire board of trustees chairwoman, Gaye Hill, told the Washington Post the college wanted to get out ahead of things before they reach a crisis stage. “We’re in a position of strength,” she said. “We can see our way forward for a couple years, but we can’t see our way forward much further than that.”
The state’s higher ed landscape has been rocked in recent years by closures and mergers involving smaller schools. Hampshire president Miriam Nelson said the Wheelock College merger with Boston University is a “good example” of how a partnership could work.
Whether Hampshire could retain its distinct approach if it joined with a more financially stable institution would loom as a big question.
Hampshire boasts a set of notable alums, including filmmaker Ken Burns, actors Lupita Nyong’o and Liev Schreiber, and Stonyfield Farm yogurt founder Gary Hirschberg. (Filling out the roster of graduates are, of course, thousands of everyday plebes, such as Amherst town manager Paul Bockelman, who offered hope that the college would see its way through and survive, as well as today’s somewhat misty-eyed Download correspondent.)
School officials insist Hampshire is not closing, as they look ahead to its 50th anniversary next year. Maybe the decision to get out ahead of problems will pay off with a plan that sees the college survive, adapting creatively to new realities in a way that would make its pedagogical pioneers proud.
Or maybe things don’t work out, a possibility one graduate pondered with a degree of philosophical equanimity. “Maybe it was just supposed to ride the arc of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s and go away,” Jessamyn West, a 1990 Hampshire grad, told Inside Higher Ed. “Maybe higher education is different now — maybe everybody should just learn to code, which I don’t personally believe. But I know that’s the feeling in the air.”
Gov. Charlie Baker appoints a trusted legal aide, Cathy Judd-Stein, as the chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. (State House News)
Outside observers are criticizing ongoing state policies that allow exiting employees to cash in some of their unused vacation and sick time that may have accrued over many years. (Boston Herald)
Mayor Marty Walsh, in his State of the City speech, touts Boston’s efforts to address housing needs, climate change, and other issues in contrast to the federal government, which he said has no policy to deal with such challenges. (Boston Globe)
Lawyers for the city of Brockton filed a response to a federal lawsuit filed last year by a man alleging he was subjected to racial abuse by a city parking control officer during a flap at a downtown parking lot. (Enterprise News)
William Barr tells Senate Judiciary Committee members considering his nomination for attorney general that he respects special counsel Robert Mueller and would let him finish his investigation if put in charge of the Department of Justice. (New York Times)
Newly elected US Rep. Lori Trahan was appointed to a seat on the House Armed Services Committee, a panel her predecessor, Niki Tsongas, served on and used as a platform to tackle the issue of sexual assault in the military. (Associated Press) Rep. Ayanna Pressley landed a seat on the House Financial Services Committee. (Boston Globe)
A federal judge in New York ordered the Trump administration to remove a citizenship question from the 2020 census. (WGBH)
As the federal government shutdown drags on, states are beginning to worry that federal benefit programs — Temporary Assistance for Needy Families at the end of January and food stamps at the end of February — will expire. (Governing) Central Massachusetts officials are getting nervous. (Telegram & Gazette)
The Des Moines Register calls on US Rep. Steve King of Iowa to resign in the wake of his comments about white nationalism and white supremacy.
Jeff Jacoby expresses incredulity at Trump’s comments that the rulers of China’s murderous regime are “far more honorable” than Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. (Boston Globe)
Why not? New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand joins what’s shaping up to be an enormous Democratic presidential field by announcing — on Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” — that she’ll seek the party nomination. (Washington Post) Could Seth Moulton be next? (Boston Globe)
Attorney General Maura Healey files a 274-page memorandum targeting the Sackler family for its efforts to promote Purdue Pharma’s sales of OxyContin in Massachusetts. (WBUR)
The Conservation Law Foundation is making some waves with a letter expressing concerns about the redevelopment of the former Boston Edison plant along the South Boston coastline. (Boston Globe)
Conan Harris leaves his job with the city of Boston and takes a job as senior vice president of policy and external affairs at College Bound Dorchester. (Dorchester News) Harris is the husband of US Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who has put her apartment in Dorchester up for sale while she and Harris look for a new home. (CommonWealth)
UMass Boston severs ties with its Confucius Institute, an on-campus academic center funded primarily by the Chinese government. (CommonWealth)
Ricardo Rosa, cochair of the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools, says his group will hold a protest on Monday targeting an agreement that will allow a local charter school to expand but at a much smaller rate and under new conditions governing which students can attend. “We feel that it’s highly anti-democratic for these deals to be made behind closed doors,” he said, referring to an agreement reached between Jeff Riley, the state education commissioner; Jon Mitchell, the mayor of New Bedford; and the Alma del Mar charter school. (South Coast Today)
Ten of Longmeadow’s school administrators invoke whistleblower protection as they criticize the School Committee for its decision not to renew the contract of Superintendent Martin O’Shea. (MassLive)
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is awarding $1 million in grants to nonprofits that hire “recovery coaches” to help people dealing with addiction issues. (Boston Herald)
The Boston Center for the Arts is rolling out a tiered pricing structure for its venues in response to a report suggesting performance spaces were inaccessible to many of the city’s artists. (WBUR)
Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer notified the Cannabis Control Commission that a police officer found vials containing marijuana in a dumpster outside a pot testing lab. In her letter to the commission, Spicer said MCR Labs appeared to be disposing of the marijuana improperly. (MetroWest Daily News)
The Plainridge Park Casino has its best December ever. (Sun Chronicle)
Attorney General Maura Healey rejects a Charlton bylaw that would have required marijuana community host agreements to be approved at town meeting. The bylaw was intended to block a $100 million project with pot cultivator Valley Green Grow. (Telegram & Gazette)
An organization that oversees Jesuit priests in eight Northeastern states released a list of 50 priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse dating back to 1950, including 22 who lived in Massachusetts. (Boston Globe)
A new study suggests many prisoners could benefit if the federal ban on giving Pell grants to inmates was lifted. (MassLive)
John Henry has sold a former printing plant in Millbury for $5.6 million. Henry acquired the plant when he bought the Telegram & Gazette and the Boston Globe from the New York Times Co. for $70 million in 2013. He sold off the T&G for $17.4 million in 2014 and sold the Globe’s headquarters in Dorchester in 2017 for $81 million. All in all, his original $70 million investment has netted him a total of $104 million and he still owns the Globe. (Telegram & Gazette)