Culminating a process that began in the spring of 2017, Thomas Aquinas College has received approval from the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education to operate a second campus in Western Massachusetts, where it will award the degree of Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts. The decision sets the stage for Thomas Aquinas College, New England, to open its doors in fall 2019.
The Board’s approval comes as the result of a thorough and rigorous application process conducted by its legal and academic affairs staff at the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education. Its grant of authority is subject to stipulations, the most important of which requires the College to submit annual status reports during its initial five years of operation, providing narrative and statistical information on the institution’s ongoing compliance with the Board’s standards.
“This is a great accomplishment,” says President Michael F. McLean. “We are grateful to the Board for its thoughtful review, and we are grateful to God for the opportunity to bring Thomas Aquinas College’s unique and highly regarded academic program to a region known for quality higher education.”
In May 2017 the National Christian Foundation gave the College the beautiful, former campus of a preparatory school in Northfield, Massachusetts, which has been shuttered since 2005. The historic property, located near the Connecticut River, consists of some 100 acres of land and includes residence halls, a library, a chapel, a gymnasium, and ample classroom and administrative space.
Having received the Board’s approval, the College is now seeking an extension of its accreditation to the New England campus, a process to which it anticipates a favorable conclusion within the next few months. “Pending the approval of the WASC Senior College and University Commission, we will be able to begin admitting students in New England,” says Dr. McLean. “In the meantime, we are accepting student applications and, of course, friends’ donations to cover the costs of readying the campus for student use.”
College officials are additionally making other preparations for the opening of the branch campus this fall. “We have already selected our initial faculty for New England, and those tutors and their families will, no doubt, begin to make moving plans,” says Dr. McLean. “We are also hoping to host East Coast versions of the High School Summer Program and Summer Seminars in 2019.”
The timing of the new campus, adds Dr. McLean, is providential: “Our California campus achieved full enrollment in 2005, and waiting lists have been growing ever since. So we have hoped and prayed for an opportunity to establish a second campus and, thanks be to God, that day has arrived.”
Notably, the College’s need for expansion counters a 50-year trend in higher education, in which more than a quarter of the country’s small liberal arts schools have either closed, merged, or abandoned their missions. “At a time when more than a few liberal arts colleges have had to close,” says R. Scott Turicchi, chairman of the College’s Board of Governors, “it is a testament to the excellence of Thomas Aquinas College’s unique program of Catholic liberal education and to its good stewardship that the school has received approval to operate a second campus.”
The news of the Board’s decision has been greeted with joy and gratitude at the California campus. “We wish to thank all who have supported and encouraged us in this effort,” says Dr. McLean. “We are grateful to the citizens of Northfield who have welcomed Thomas Aquinas College into their community; to our neighbors, the Moody Center; to the Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski, Bishop of Springfield, who has welcomed the College into his diocese; and to the National Christian Foundation and other friends and benefactors whose generosity has contributed both to our success in reaching this point and to our confidence as we move forward.”