Dowling College to close
Dowling College in Oakdale (Long Island Press photo)

By Leo Capobianco, Ana Borruto, Olivia Booth and Timothy Bolger

Oakdale-based Dowling College, which announced its abrupt closure earlier this month and then cancelled it amid negotiations with an investor, is slated to lose its accreditation on Aug. 31, according to its oversight agency.

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The Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which certifies the academic integrity of colleges and universities, voted last week to withdraw accreditation for the struggling private, nonprofit liberal arts college following a two-year review, the Philadelphia-based agency said in a statement Tuesday. Students, professors and alumni were shocked by the latest development. The next move for the college, which has been in talks with British college investment company Global University Systems (GUS), is unclear.

“We are in receipt of the Middle States’ decision. And after a comprehensive review of the document the board will issue a statement in response,” the college said in a statement on its website Wednesday. When asked if the board plans to appeal the decision, Albert Inserra, the seventh Dowling president in 12 years, said: “Still in discussion.”

Founded on the site of the former William K. Vanderbilt estate overlooking the Connectquot River, Dowling, which also has a campus in Shirley, saw enrollment plunge from 6,379 students in 2005 to 2,453 by the fall of 2014 as it struggled to repay $54 million in debt, according to The Associated Press. Other small private colleges nationwide have also folded recently for similar reasons. Briarcliffe College, which has campuses in Bethpage and Patchogue, announced six months ago that it’s closing in 2018.

“It’s so sad that this is happening,” said Danielle Jacinto, a Dowling graduate, who was reminiscing on campus with former classmates after picking up their transcripts Tuesday. “This was such a great place to go to school.”

The same day that Middle States revoked Dowling’s accreditation, the agency’s board also voted to put Nassau Community College on probation. Outgoing Farmingdale State College President Hubert Keen was recently named incoming president of NCC, which has struggled for years to find a permanent leader—a problem with which Dowling also struggled. But Keen is not slated to come on board NCC until August.

Dowling’s stability had been in doubt long before it announced May 31 that it would close June 3. On June 1, it laid off its 453 professors, according to the New York State Department of Labor. The college later extended its closing date twice. Then it held a news conference to declare that it would remain open, citing ongoing talks with GUS.

For several days after the initial closure announcement, Dowling initiated a mandated “teach-out plan” that included a partnership with Rockville Centre-based Molloy College, where Dowling students were to continue their studies. When Dowling changed course, the college nixed that plan.

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“My apologies for the confusion over the past couple of weeks,” Inserra had said in an email to students. “The option of Molloy College, who generously offered [to] be our partner and to teach-out our students, is technically not available. There is no teach-out as long as Dowling remains open.”

With an enrollment of about 2,000, Dowling students have been reeling from the shifting news about their college’s future. Some had expressed their shock and anger at the abrupt closure announcement, which forced them to find a college that would accept their transfer credits on short notice. Now some of them are suspicious of Dowling’s supposed reversal of fortune.

“I can’t say I’m anything less than skeptical at Dowling’s ‘re-opening,’” said Aaron Henderson, a second-generation Dowling student who was a sophomore majoring in psychology and is now transferring to SUNY Fredonia. “With no professors and not a whole lot of students looking to come back, I can’t see why anyone would try to keep it open.”

Now, with the impending loss of Dowling’s accreditation, Middle States ordered the college to reinstate its teach-out plan. If Dowling stays open without accreditation, students will not be eligible for federal tuition assistance, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

“This is a very complex situation and we have to wait for it to play out,” said Matt Smith, a spokesman for the New York State United Teachers, the union representing the 47 full-time and 78 adjunct professors. He says his members are disappointed by Middle States’ decision.

Some of those former professors were more blunt in their assessment of the situation.

“Now that the school has lost its accreditation, it means it will close,” said Bill Thierfelder, a retired English professor at Dowling. “No one wants to send their kid to a non-accredited institution. It’s really, really, really time to pull the plug on this place.

“There is life after Dowling,” he continued. “It was a great place. We’re sorry that it went under. But now it’s time to drop the rock and move on. That’s what a lot of us are doing.”