Federal Relief Funds Keeping Small, Struggling Colleges In New England Afloat — For Now

Aisha Francis, president of Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology of Boston, stands inside the school on July 21, 2020. After seeking a merger, the school is selling its campus on Berkeley Street in Boston’s South End and moving its operations to Roxbury’s Nubian Square. (Meredith Nierman/GBH News)

In a dank basement of a 113-year-old building in Boston, Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology’s new president Aisha Francis struggled to turn the key to a classroom where — when school is in session — students learn how to fix cars.

“They learn to take apart and rebuild a transmission, so they have to be able to do that and have the transmission run,” Francis explained, jiggling the lock until — finally — the door creaked open.

Inside, the windowless classroom was empty but fumes from students’ previous hands-on work lingered in the air like an omen.

Founded in 1908 with a legacy gift from Benjamin Franklin and a matching gift from Andrew Carnegie, the institute is one of New England’s oldest technical colleges. It’s also emblematic of small private colleges in New England that have struggled to survive and have received a temporary jumpstart from a jolt of federal COVID-19 relief funds. It’s unclear how long the reprieve will last.

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