Dowling College named a new president Tuesday, with officials expressing confidence that the small, financially challenged liberal arts school in Oakdale is on its way to stability.
Albert F. Inserra, chairman of Dowling's doctoral program in educational administration, leadership and technology, is the college's chief effective immediately. Inserra, 67, served as superintendent of school districts in Carle Place and Port Washington, retiring from the latter in 2002.
He is Dowling's seventh president since 2005.
"There is work to be done, but we are ready," Inserra said. "We know what needs to be done, and the board has committed the resources to get that job done." He said administrators are looking at staffing levels and some positions have been cut through attrition and retirements, but he did not have specific numbers.
Michael Puorro, chairman of the private school's board of trustees, said, "We believe we are in the final phase of a scripted plan to bring the college back to growth and prominence." The college did not release Inserra's salary.
Officials said Dowling has a target enrollment of 2,000 to 2,100 students this year. Since fall 2009, enrollment has dropped 45 percent, from 4,435 full-time-equivalent students to 2,438 students in fall 2013, according to a Moody's Investor Service report in March that downgraded the school's credit rating.
The school, with a $48 million debt, has eliminated staff positions, consolidated student housing and altered programs, among other cost-cutting measures.
Educators plan to retool the business school and anticipate growth at the aviation school, Puorro said, adding the college is working to reduce and better manage its debt. Dowling ended fiscal year 2013 with an operating surplus of $447,000, according to a report by the auditing firm KPMG.
Inserra replaces acting president Norman Smith, who was hired in May 2013 and is leaving for another interim university presidency starting next month, according to Dowling officials.
Smith is under contract to the Registry for College and University Presidents, which assigns short-term veteran educational leaders to colleges and universities nationwide. Dowling officials declined to say how much Smith was paid and did not identify his next position.
Smith, who was credited with bringing Wagner College on Staten Island from the brink of closure in the late 1980s, could not be reached for comment. In a news release he said he has "great confidence in the future of Dowling" under Inserra's guidance.
Smith "has fulfilled his pledge to help strengthen Dowling" by working to stabilize the college's finances and strengthening its enrollment outlook, Puorro said in a news release.
Earlier this summer, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, a nongovernmental agency that accredits institutions of higher learning, warned Dowling that it must meet a list of 14 required standards or risk losing its accreditation.
Middle States on June 26 said Dowling had not complied with three of the 14 accreditation standards. However, a spokesman said the commission also found the college had made strides in some areas.
Inserra said work has begun on meeting the commission's academic criteria and a workshop on student assessments was held this week.
"We have to report back . . . by March, and I am very confident that following that report we will have our full accreditation," he said.
Inserra, who has been with Dowling for 12 years, holds a doctorate in educational administration from Fordham University, an advanced certificate in educational administration from Hofstra University, a master of science in genetics from Seton Hall University and a bachelor's degree in biology from Seton Hall, the college's news release said.