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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Nassau Community College’s lessons in Dowling College demise

The sun sets on Dowling College in Oakdale,

The sun sets on Dowling College in Oakdale, May 31, 2016, as the institution is set to close this week. Credit: Johnny Milano

The death of one Long Island college, Dowling, this week could become an object lesson for another institution, Nassau Community College, now scrambling to secure firm footing.

As of Friday, Dowling College, a 48-year-old liberal arts school in Suffolk County, will be no more. And although the sudden announcement of its demise likely came as a suprise to some students, staff and faculty, the hard fact is that the college had been dying.

For years.

Efforts to stem declining enrollment by retooling some of its programs did not work.

And — despite union concessions — Dowling remained unable to pull itself back from financial instability.

One of the biggest issues?

It’s one that NCC knows well: A lack of strong and consistent leadership.

In 2012, Dowling — gripped by enrollment and financial issues — named its fourth president in six years.

But it didn’t last.

In fact, sources told Newsday back then, the leadership gap kept decades of administrative infighting alive, even as academic programs began to falter.

But there was a time when Dowling thrived — most admirably, as a college that turned out generations of teachers, until the demand for educators fell off.

There were other programs in the college’s schools of business, education, arts and science and aviation.

One of the Mercury Seven astronauts, Wally Schirra — who also flew Gemini and Apollo missions — opened the college’s transportation campus in Shirley in 1994.

More recently, Dowling began reaching out to Long Island high school students through the college’s annual Youth Summit, challenging them to research and rethink some of the issues vexing the region — from the environment to race relations.

That all ends Friday, the day the college, which has one of the most bucolic campuses in the region in Oakdale, ceases operation.

Like Dowling, Nassau Community College in Garden City has had a dearth of stable leadership, as shown recently by multiple failed attempts by the college board of trustees to field a new president.

Like Dowling, NCC has been beset by years of infighting between administrators and faculty.

NCC also is under scrutiny by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, an accrediting organization, as Dowling once was.

Still, NCC has advantages.

For one, NCC has not seen Dowling’s precipitiously steep enrollment decline, although the school’s retention rate could be better.

And while Dowling, as a private independent college, tried and failed, to partner with another institution, NCC, as a public college, is part of the state university system.

Which means SUNY can help — as it did in the effort to secure an open-ended contract with W. Hubert Keen, the outgoing president of Farmingdale State College, to lead NCC.

Like Dowling in years past, NCC is at a crossroads.

Which path will it choose?

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