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Dowling College finds academic partner to protect future

Dowling College officials on Tuesday, March 15, 2016,

Dowling College officials on Tuesday, March 15, 2016, announced intentions to affiliate with an unnamed academic partner in a move to keep the struggling liberal arts college in Oakdale afloat. Credit: Newsday File / Randee Daddona

Dowling College has intentions to affiliate with an unnamed academic partner in a move to keep the struggling liberal arts college afloat, officials said Tuesday.

A confidentiality agreement prohibits Dowling officials from disclosing the identity of the affiliating institution, a statement from the college said. Dowling spokesman Gary Lewi said he could not provide further information.

The initiative comes as the Oakdale-based college’s national academic accreditation hangs in the balance after years of financial challenges, changes in leadership and plummeting enrollment.

The private, nonprofit school last year had 1,784 undergraduate and 670 graduate students, according to a report by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education — a significant drop from its 4,500 students in 2009.

“Recognizing the need to take positive, affirmative action to protect its future, Dowling College has executed a letter of intent and entered into a due diligence period with an academic affiliation partner,” said the statement, released Tuesday morning.

The letter of intent is the result of Dowling’s relationship with the investment firm RBC Capital Markets LLC, which has assisted the college in exploring its options, including affiliations with higher education partners, according to the statement.

With the affiliation, the college “seeks to immediately implement financial cost-saving initiatives which will strengthen and sustain the college’s financial position as it moves forward to secure our future,” it said.

Dowling has been on warning regarding its accreditation since June 2014, when a Middle States report showed the school failed to comply with three major standards. Middle States, based in Philadelphia, is a nongovernmental agency that accredits institutions of higher learning in certain areas, including New York.

Middle States spokesman Richard Pokrass said Tuesday that the college will be required to inform the commission of the identity of any affiliating institution and the terms of any agreement. Pokrass said he did not know the identity of the institution, and its name would not be available until an affiliation is approved.

In November, the commission required Dowling to show cause by March 1 as to why its accreditation should not be withdrawn — a deadline that the college met, Pokrass said.

The college remains accredited while on warning, he said. An onsite visit is scheduled for early April.

Dowling must submit to Middle States audited financial statements for the most recent fiscal year, budget projections through the 2019 fiscal year, a fundraising campaign and a debt repayment plan. The college also must provide Middle States with a “teach-out” plan describing how students would be accommodated if the commission withdraws its accreditation.

“In accordance with commission policy and federal regulations, the teach-out plan must provide for the equitable treatment of students to complete their education, and include any teach-out agreements that the institution has entered into or intends to enter into with another institution,” according to the Middle States accreditation status report.

Pokrass, speaking generally about academic affiliation agreements, said one of the most common is between two accredited institutions “in which the resources of the two partners complement each other, such as a community college and a state university offering a joint degree.”

“Another increasingly common model has been for outright mergers between institutions,” Pokrass said. He cited two recent mergers — of Union Graduate College with Clarkson University in upstate Schenectady, and of Corcoran College of Art and Design with The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Dowling has two campuses — at its main waterfront location in Oakdale and a second, newer campus in Brookhaven.

Albert F. Inserra, a former superintendent of the Port Washington school district, was named the college’s president in August 2014. He is the seventh president since 2005.

The current cost to attend the college, including tuition, room and board and fees, ranges from $40,000 to $44,000 per academic year based on a 30-credit undergraduate course load, according to the college’s website.

In December, Briarcliffe College, a for-profit school based in Bethpage, said it would close its two campuses and lay off all 294 employees by the end of 2018.

With Kathleen Kerr

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