Dowling College in Oakdale is slated to close for good...

Dowling College in Oakdale is slated to close for good on June 8, 2016. Credit: Johnny Milano

A group of Dowling College alumni announced on Saturday they are creating a nonprofit to solicit donations to try to avert Wednesday’s planned shutdown of the college, which has struggled to retain its academic accreditation and faces $54 million in debt.

The alumni are planning to legally incorporate the group, Saving Dowling College, and registered the web domain on Thursday — two days after the president of the private, Oakdale-based college surprised its roughly 1,700 students with news of the closure.

The abrupt announcement, which came after the college had repeatedly tried and failed to raise money to pay down its debt and find an investor or academic partner, had sent students scurrying to obtain academic records and figure out how to continue their educations.

The website, which seeks donations via PayPal, warns that “contributions at this time are not tax deductible,” noting that the group’s application to become an official nonprofit is pending.

The Alumni Association of Dowling College is behind the group and the website, which details alumni efforts to keep the 48-year-old college open, said Eric Cote, a Rhode Island-based “crisis communications” spokesman hired by the association.

Cote said he did not immediately know where in the process Saving Dowling College was to become a 501(c)3 nonprofit — the tax-code designation for a charitable organization. Nor did Cote say he knew whether donors would get refunds if the college shuts down as planned, though he said some of what is donated would be used for overhead on the campaign.

“We can’t say at this point what would happen to people’s funds that are actually contributed between now and Wednesday,” he said.

He said “the vast majority” of funds raised would go to the college itself, and promised “full transparency” in disclosing what is disbursed, perhaps on a website or in an email to donors.

Cote said if the college closes — the “worst-case scenario” — the group would use the money to sustain an alumni association.

There is no specific amount the organization hopes to raise, Cote said.

Additionally, Cote said the alumni association president, Frank Corso Jr., has been in discussions with “an institutional party” that has “significant financial resources” in an attempt to help save the school. Cote said he could not elaborate or otherwise identify the party, except to say it was not Global University Systems, the British educational investor with which Dowling College trustees are themselves in talks.

Corso did not return a call for comment Saturday, nor did Dowling College’s board chairman Michael Puorro or President Albert Inserra, who initially had slated the college’s closure for last Friday.

There are more than 40,000 Dowling College alumni, according to the college’s website.

Cote said the group behind the website is “optimistic” but realistic about what it can and cannot do by Wednesday to address the $54 million in debt.

“There’s no expectation that the funding gap the college has spoken of in terms of its debt will be erased in a few days’ time,” Cote said.

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