Briarcliffe College's campus in Bethpage on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015....

Briarcliffe College's campus in Bethpage on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015. Students and staff had just learned the school intends to close by the end of 2018. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Students at Briarcliffe College’s Bethpage and Patchogue campuses expressed shock and sadness Tuesday at the sudden news that the 49-year-old school will close by the end of 2018.

“I was hit pretty hard about it. This school means a lot to me,” said Chrysandra “Sai” Sanders, 21, of Wheatley Heights, who is president of the college’s gaming club, a group of students who socialize and play games. She is seeking her associate degree in graphic design at Bethpage.

“I made a huge group of friends and we all share personal connections, and because of this school I was able to come out of my shell and become the person I am today,” she said.

In a notice filed with the state Labor Department, the for-profit college indicated it would close its two campuses and lay off all 294 employees by the end of 2018.

George Santiago Jr., the college’s president, sent a letter dated Monday to the state Education Department notifying the agency that the school will “discontinue operations.” The college anticipates the final day of class will be by the end of April 2018 in Bethpage and December 2018 in Patchogue, he wrote.

The decision comes after years of falling enrollment. Briarcliffe’s Illinois-based owner, Career Education Corp., put the school up for sale in May but could not find a purchaser.

The college, in a three-paragraph statement issued Tuesday, announced it has developed a “teach out” plan to begin the gradual end of operations. The plan, which the statement says requires regulatory and related approvals, “is designed to afford Briarcliffe students a reasonable opportunity to complete their program of study before their college is ultimately closed in 2018.”

“While this is a sad day indeed, I have assured Briarcliffe students that through our plan they have the opportunity to continue their studies and pursue their degrees,” Santiago said in the statement. “Briarcliffe alumni have left their mark on the Long Island community for decades, and I’m confident our graduates will continue making contributions for years to come.”

Santiago, in response to questions from Newsday, said administrators have been holding “town hall meetings” with students and will meet individually with them in coming weeks to discuss their educational plans.

“We want our students to know that we are here to help them finish their programs of study and this is not an abrupt closure, but rather a gradual discontinuation of operations,” he wrote.

The school president wrote that he could not give a specific enrollment figure, as it “fluctuates dramatically throughout the year.”

He pointed to data Briarcliffe had supplied to the National Center for Education Statistics. Those figures showed the college’s fall 2014 enrollment was 1,719 and estimated tuition and fees for the 2014-15 academic year were $14,677.

At the Patchogue campus, students also expressed deep disappointment.

Michael Campanella, 20, of Medford is seeking his associate degree in criminal justice and wanted to attend Briarcliffe for his bachelor’s. He said he will have to transfer.

“I understand where they are coming from — if they decide to close the school then they have to close the school,” he said. “I loved going to school here. This is a great environment, a great school.”

Briarcliffe was founded as a secretarial school in 1966 by the late Daniel Turan and his wife, Harriet. Over the years, it grew into an institution offering bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice and other studies.

Sons Richard and Jack Turan held leadership positions before the family sold it to Career Education Corp. in 1999.

“It was very sad to receive the news. I’m sad for the students and for the great faculty that they always had,” Richard Turan of Cold Spring Harbor, a former Briarcliffe president, said Tuesday in a phone interview.

He noted that the school had sought to reinvent itself in 1979 as a four-year, regionally accredited college.

“But we tried to maintain the highest quality, so that the students would receive an education that would embrace liberal arts — though we were clearly not a liberal arts school, we were career-oriented and business-oriented,” Turan said.

It was during that time that Briarcliffe expanded to the Bethpage campus, which had been the engineering headquarters for Grumman.

“We became, as time went on, more selective. We had as many as 3,000 students,” he said. “I think we served students very well and we recruited an outstanding faculty.”

Turan said the family has not been involved with the college since the sale. He had high praise for Santiago, whom he saw occasionally, calling him “a heck of nice guy and very competent. He had the right background. That was a good selection CEC made, but I have not been involved at all in the inner workings of Briarcliffe.”

Douglas Brinson, 22, of Hempstead, said he has loved attending Briarcliffe — “I waited my whole summer to come back here,” he said — and has made many friends on the Bethpage campus. He said he believes he will be able to get his associate degree in graphic design before the closing.

His brother, Demari Brinson, 18 and also studying graphic design, is not so sure.

“If I can get my associate’s, that would be great,” he said. When asked what he would do if the school closes before he earns his degree, he said, “I have no idea.”

Student Juan Rodriguez, 21, of Hempstead, is seeking a degree in graphic design and expects to graduate next year.

“I was kind of shocked,” Rodriguez said upon learning of the closure. He said he appreciates the small structure of the school.

In emails Monday to staff and students, Santiago said layoffs started Monday as part of the “teach out” and full-time workers will get severance and transitional benefits.

The Bethpage campus will lay off 171 workers and the Patchogue campus 123, according to Briarcliffe’s notice to the state, required under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification law.

With Ellen Yan and Carrie Mason-Draffen

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