Thomas Aquinas College is expanding its footprint from California into Massachusetts, venturing into the Northeast at a time when many colleges and universities worry about a projected drop in the number of students in the region.
The Catholic college with a great books curriculum, which is located in Santa Paula, Calif., said Tuesday that it plans to start a new branch campus on the donated former grounds of a secondary school in Northfield, Mass. Plans call for Thomas Aquinas to take over its new campus on May 2 of this year before officially opening it in the fall of 2018. (Note: This paragraph has been corrected to reflect that the college's branch campus is starting on the former grounds of a secondary school that remains in operation in another location.)
Thomas Aquinas plans to ramp up on the new campus slowly, starting with 36 freshmen accepted in each of its first four years and then slowly growing the student body to between 350 and 400 students. Its two campuses will start out as parts of the same institution, with one governing document, faculty, Board of Governors, curriculum and accreditation. Leaders are keeping open the option of making the two campuses independent at some point in the future, however.
The college will accept its new campus as a gift from the National Christian Foundation, a philanthropy organization that received the grounds from Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. Hobby Lobby purchased the property in 2009, four years after the Northfield Mount Hermon School decided to move off the campus in a consolidation.
The deeply religious family that owns Hobby Lobby purchased the campus for $100,000 and invested millions of dollars into it while planning to transfer it to a Christian institution. Possible candidates mentioned over the years included a new college named for C. S. Lewis, Grand Canyon University, the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board, Olivet University, Azusa Pacific University and Liberty University, according to reporting by MassLive.com and the Associated Press.
The Northfield campus that Thomas Aquinas is set to receive is about 90 miles northwest of Boston. It is listed at 217 acres with 500,000 square feet of dormitory and classroom space. It also has other buildings including a library, gymnasium, science hall and chapel.
Keeping the student body on Thomas Aquinas’s California campus at or below 400 has been a priority, said its president, Michael F. McLean, in a statement. Doing so keeps an intimate feel, he said. But the size limit led leaders to consider a second campus as the college turned away applicants.
“Given the tremendous challenges and costs involved, the question would have remained no more than academic -- but for this extraordinary opportunity that the National Christian Foundation has offered us,” McLean said in the statement. “Never did we imagine we could acquire a campus so fully developed and so beautiful.”
Plans call for Thomas Aquinas to share part of the campus with The Moody Center, which will operate a museum and archive related to evangelist Dwight L. Moody, who originally established the property in Northfield.
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