A Tennessee liberal arts college is drastically cutting back on staff, faculty, and programs. Dominican Aquinas College was once a “normal school”, focused on teaching teachers, and will become one once more, shedding its liberal arts undergrad and postgrad programs:
Then on Friday leaders announced a major change, shrinking the college and moving it back toward its roots as a normal school. Aquinas College will cut degrees in arts and sciences, business and nursing. It will eliminate residential housing and student life activities. And, significantly, it will not be accepting any federal funding.
The human cost includes this: “the college will be laying off roughly 60 of 76 staff and faculty members.” Many students will have to finish their coursework elsewhere: “up to 140 of its 257 students will have finish their degrees somewhere else.”
Why? The usual reasons, as The Tennessean explains: enrollment and finance.
Sister Anne Catherine Burleigh, the spokeswoman for the Dominican congregation, which owns and operates Aquinas, said enrollment and fundraising have lagged behind projections for several years. As a result, the college had repeatedly been forced to dip into its savings to cover operating costs.
IHE gives numbers to that enrollment decline – more like a plummet than a decline: “In 2012, its enrollment was just over 600, Sister Anne Catherine said. At the start of the fall semester, it had dropped to 344. Today it is 257.” On the finances, “Last summer, ‘we were able to pay our bills, but it was close,’ Sister Anne Catherine said.”
The congregation has concluded that there is no viable long-term solution which would adequately support a traditional college with residential and student life without placing both the college and the congregation at serious financial risk.
A related yet different perspective comes from “Clark Baker, a former member of Aquinas’ board and a longtime donor”:
an increasingly competitive higher education landscape — including many rapidly growing religious colleges — blunted the impact of those investments. Baker said the college stands to lose millions this year. Campus leadership said the latest estimates suggest around $1.9 million in losses.
(Remember what I’ve been saying about increased competitiveness making inter-campus collaboration more difficult?)
What can we learn about American higher education from this story? It’s only one story, but does connect with numerous cuts and closings and merger talks from other small colleges and universities. It may be that we’re shifting our sense of scale upwards, away from relatively tiny institutions.