The main entrance to the Aquinas College campus in Nashville Aquinas College

The main entrance to the Aquinas College campus in Nashville.

Aquinas College in Nashville makes drastic cuts to programs

School will offer degrees only in education, and more than half of the college's 257 students will have to go elsewhere to complete their degree programs.

Aquinas College in Nashville has announced that it is dramatically curtailing its operations, cutting most of its employees and forcing more than half of the student body to transfer to other institutions.

The Nashville Tennessean reports that starting this fall, the college, operated by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation, will offer degrees only in education. Other programs, including degree tracks for nursing, business and arts and sciences, will be eliminated, as will on-campus housing and student life activities.

"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," says Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith, Aquinas president. "Given these considerations, we have sought to reach the most financially responsible decision possible, both for the short and long term."

As a result, about 60 of the college's 76 employees will lose their jobs and as many as 140 of Aquinas' 257 students will have to go elsewhere to finish their degrees. School officials say the cuts were the result of longstanding difficulties with funding and enrollment.

Galbraith says the decision to shrink operations came after considering the college's "persistent history of difficulties in finances, fluctuating enrollment, and development, as well as other complexities related to operating a traditional college in today’s world."

Employees who lose their jobs will receive a severance package and help finding a new job. Galbraith has also been in touch with more than a dozen colleges in an attempt to lay the groundwork for student transfers.

Hours after Aquinas announced its plan to restructure, Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tenn., rolled out a slate of scholarships and supports specially designed for transferring Aquinas students. All Aquinas students enrolling at Cumberland will be eligible for a $6,000 transfer award, with thousands of dollars in additional aid possible.

Aquinas will continue to offer bachelor and master’s degrees in education, with an emphasis on training teachers for Catholic schools.

The change will not affect the other schools on the Dominican campus. Overbrook School and St. Cecilia Academy are independent from Aquinas and have their own budgets, development programs and endowments.

The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia founded Aquinas as a junior college in 1961 and expanded to offer four-year degrees in 1994.

The cutbacks at Aquinas come despite recent investments in growing the faculty and campus. Construction just wrapped on a $9 million residence hall — the first new building on campus in about 40 years — and administrators had pledged to expand academic programming as recently as 2015.

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