Clark University to Establish New School of Design & Technology Following Becker College Closure

An agreement between the colleges details a pathway for some of Becker’s programs to continue through a partnership with Becker faculty under the Clark administration

Everett Beals, Scarlet Staff

University administration has announced the establishment of a sixth school at Clark, the Becker School of Design & Technology. In a statement released last Monday, March 29, Clark President David Fithian said he was, “proud to welcome Becker students to Clark” and “thrilled not only to nurture these signature Becker programs,” but also to “expand them, and broaden their scope.”  

President Fithian wrote that Clark “sincerely regrets” the loss of Becker in the Worcester community, and that he hopes the name of the new Becker School will “honor and sustain the great history and tradition of Becker College.”  

“By merging Becker’s strengths… with the heft of a Clark liberal arts education,” Fithian said, Clark hopes to create an academic program that “uniquely equips our students to confront challenges on a global scale and embrace emerging opportunities.” 

Fithian’s  announcement comes only a day after Becker College’s Board of Trustees shared their unanimous decision to close, a result of  the “impact of COVID-19, declining enrollment, rising costs, and an insufficient endowment.” The Board of Trustees chairwoman Christine Cassidy wrote that the decision was “exceptionally painful,” despite it following “many months of striving for a viable… path to address the increasing financial pressures on our College.” 

The statement read that the Becker administration had avoided closure for two years by restructuring academics and programs.This included selling some of the College’s properties, shifting business strategies, cutting back personnel and placing a freeze on all new hires, and even working to attain an “affiliation with a nonprofit educational system.”  

The effects of COVID-19 greatly affected the College’s existing financial struggles. The Board wrote, “The abrupt shift to remote learning and closing residence halls” resulted in a significant loss of revenue.” Unable to afford the extreme costs of on-campus COVID-19 testing or an investment in the many infrastructural safety mechanisms necessary to operate during the pandemic, Becker was forced to operate remotely for the Fall 2020 semester. Students were able to return this Spring, though the College reported a “drastic decline in students residing in on-campus housing,” further damaging their income.  

By March 2 of this year, the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education shared their legally-mandated notification of their expectation that Becker College was “unlikely to sustain full operations through next year,” because their “financial situation had become sufficiently uncertain.” The Department’s statement also largely credited the “impact of the coronavirus” for the College’s financial instability.  

Clark University and Becker College were both founded in 1877, with Becker opening as the Becker Junior College of Business Administration and Secretarial Science. In 1977, Becker merged with Leicester Junior College, and operated under the Becker College name until their closure. In Fall 2020, Becker had 1,675 enrolled students. The Worcester Campus is located on Sever Street, about three blocks south of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, or approximately 1.25 miles from Clark.  

Becker operations and services will be officially suspended on August 31, 2021. Becker students earning their degree this semester will receive them in a formal commencement – joined by the Class of 2020, who were not recognized last year – with a committee in the process of choosing a location and format, according to the College. Students still pursuing a degree, including newly-accepted students, have the option of transferring out to continue their education. Becker has also formally partnered with at least 19 colleges in the Northeast to offer more direct pathways to degree completion, including five Worcester colleges: Assumption University, Clark University, Quinsigamond Community College, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Worcester State University.  

According to the Memorandums of understanding between Becker College and their partner universities, terms vary between institutions for which students may be accepted, and what portion of their credits and financial aid will be honored. Students who are in good academic standing – with a GPA of 2.0 or higher, according to Becker – “generally” will be “guaranteed acceptance” to the 19 pathway colleges. Through these agreements, some partners, like Worcester State, will offer direct equivalents of most, if not all Becker baccalaureate programs. Others are offering pathways to students enrolled in specific programs, such as the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which will provide such an offer for veterinary science students only.  

Clark is opening the School of Design and Technology as this is one of Becker’s most renowned programs.  Clark has created a streamlined transfer process, for which they say all Becker students “in good academic standing” enrolled in “Interactive Media and Game Design, Esports Management, Integrated Graphic Design, Business, Criminal Justice, Computer Science and Master of Fine Arts” programs are eligible. Becker’s game design programs are regularly ranked 2nd best in the world by the Princeton Review, and 1st in New England.”

These concentrations, most of which are new to Clark will be taught by current Becker faculty, according to the March 29 press release. Alan Ritacco, the Dean of Becker’s existing School of Design & Technology, along with the Associate Dean, and “many of their fellow faculty members,” will retain their positions within Clark’s new school. Though the practical details of this arrangement are not yet clear, Clark’s welcome page for interested Becker students declares that their “goal is to offer courses in existing Becker facilities for at least the coming (2021-22) academic year.” Transferring students, the page reads, will be able to “enjoy all of the resources available to Clark students.”  

Further, the website notes that “affordability is a high priority,” and promises to make the move to a Clark education “seamless.” A $12,100 grant will be offered to transferring students “to close the gap between Clark’s and Becker’s published rates” of tuition. Merit scholarships will also be honored and continued, though room and board rates will not be reduced to meet Becker’s pricing.   

According to the College, Becker students will be helped through the transfer process by their academic advisors. Should Becker students choose to apply to Clark, transfer applications are to be completed by July 1. Information sessions are set to begin the week of April 5.