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Updated: April 12, 2021 editorial

Editorial: The hope springing from Becker's closure

The closure of Becker College in Worcester at the end of the spring semester reflects the ongoing difficulties the higher education industry faces coming out of the pandemic. Long-established institutions with nine-figure endowments like College of the Holy Cross, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Clark University will weather the storm, but a number of other Central Massachusetts universities don’t have the same financial wherewithal, and Becker’s endowment of $5 million was not enough to bridge the widening gap in operating costs.

Yet, as the industry forecast remains gloomy, one aspect of Becker’s closure does give hope: the openness and collaboration with other area colleges following the announcement. Becker didn’t attempt to hide its problems and has been speaking openly for years about potential pitfalls. In early March, when its options had seemingly run dry and shutting the door was looking inevitable, Becker was communicating with students, faculty and staff, so they wouldn’t have the rug pulled out from underneath them when the time came.

While none of the area schools provided a bailout to Becker, they did step up to find homes for key programs, with the biggest move from Clark University in Worcester. Clark is taking over the game design and esports programs – long celebrated as a shining star at Becker and among the best programs in the country – naming it the Becker School of Design & Technology. This move essentially preserves all students, faculty, programs, and even buildings for a period, providing significant continuity.

Others have stepped up, too: WPI has offered to host the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute; nearly every college from Assumption University to Quinsigamond Community College want to help students ease into their various programs. Worcester State University is taking on the Becker women’s hockey team. Questions still remain, particularly the fate of the Becker campus in Worcester beyond Clark’s short-term commitment, and the fate of Becker’s other campus in Leicester. Clearly the creative reuse of these properties will be a vexing challenge. Yet they will be coming on the market when real estate has never been a hotter commodity.

Ideally, Becker would have found a way to survive the pandemic, and none of these moves would have been necessary; but that is not the reality of the higher education industry at the moment. A long-term downturn in high school graduates across New England remains ahead of us, putting increased pressure on schools who draw regionally. Atlantic Union College in Lancaster officially closed up shop in 2018 after struggling for years. Atlantic Union’s student population had atritted significantly over more than a decade, but this was not the case with Becker. Becker wasn’t poorly run, nor were its leaders delusional about the realities they faced. Those realities still have to be faced by the higher education industry. While we hope for no more school closures, if Central Massachusetts is faced with the loss of another major institution, we at least see signs neighboring institutions can come together, help students find a new home, and provide continuity of programs, while strengthening themselves in the process.

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