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State approves new college in Northfield

  • One of the buildings on the old Northfield Mount Hermon School campus in Northfield. FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Thomas Aquinas College finally has the state approval it has been waiting for to operate a branch campus in Northfield.

After what the college said was a thorough and rigorous application process that began in spring 2017, it received approval on Tuesday from the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education to open Thomas Aquinas College, New England in Northfield. The plan is for the college to open its doors next fall.

The legal and academic affairs staff at the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education conducted the application process. 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 written and statistical information on the institution’s ongoing compliance with the board’s standards.     

“This is a great accomplishment,” says Thomas Aquinas College 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 former Northfield campus of Northfield Mount Hermon School, which is now in Gill. The Northfield campus closed in 2005. That historic property consists of about 100 acres of land and includes residence halls, a library, a chapel, a gymnasium and classrooms and administrative office space.

Now, the college is seeking an extension of its national accreditation to the New England campus. 

“Pending the approval of the WASC Senior College and University Commission, we will be able to begin admitting students in New England,” said 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.”

McLean said he expects the college will receive that accreditation within the next few months.

College officials are making other preparations for the opening of the branch campus.

“We have already selected our initial faculty for New England, and those tutors and their families will, no doubt, begin to make moving plans,” said McLean. “We are also hoping to host East Coast versions of the High School Summer Program and summer seminars in 2019.”  

He said that the timing of the new campus is providential. 

“Our California campus achieved full enrollment in 2005, and waiting lists have been growing ever since,” he said. “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,” said 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 state’s decision has been greeted with joy and gratitude at the California campus, according the McLean. 

“We wish to thank all who have supported and encouraged us in this effort,” he said. “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. Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski 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.”

Previously, McLean has said he hopes eventually to enroll between 350 and 400 students. Close to the 500 students enrolled during the campus’ peak as a prep school. 

The plan announced previously has been to enroll a small number of students initially and to grow enrollment and faculty each year. By enrolling 36 more students each year, enrollment after four years would reach nearly 150 students, growing gradually thereafter.