The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia founded Aquinas as a junior college in 1961 and expanded to offer four-year degrees in 1994. The sudden announcement made to students and employees at separate meetings on Friday, represents an unprecedented shake-up for the institution. It also stands in stark contrast nursing dean positions to many 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. Clark Baker, a former member of Aquinas' board and a longtime donor, said 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. "This has been an ongoing decline in our financial stability and it got to the point that it was unsustainable," he said. "It simply didn't grow." Baker said that although the decision might catch some by surprise, it was the product of several months of behind-the-scenes conversations and prayer. Winnowing down to education allows the college to focus on its most popular program, and Baker said he was optimistic Aquinas would find a niche educating teachers for Catholic schools.
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