The impending closure of Dowling College has sent about 1,700 students scrambling, as state officials and leaders of other colleges attempt to carry out a plan that would give displaced students opportunities to continue their education.
On the main Oakdale campus Wednesday, students and graduates seeking information and their academic records lined the hallways inside the campus’ majestic Fortunoff Hall, snaking through the building.
“I was hoping to have them last one more year and unfortunately they couldn’t even last one more week,” said Jordan Hemmerly, 25, a Medford resident who was one class away from graduating with a biology degree on a pre-med track. “Considering I’ve been paying my tuition and all that, I’m pretty mad. I’ve been pretty much tossed around the entire time I was here, and it didn’t seem like any one department knew what the other one was doing.”
Officials at Dowling, the 48-year-old liberal arts college with campuses in Oakdale and Shirley, plan to cease operations Friday, except for a skeleton operation to supply student records. Dowling trustees moved to close the school after years of financial challenges and several unsuccessful attempts in recent months to find an investor or academic partner.
Several students and faculty members said they were saddened, shocked and upset. Staffers walked to their cars, carrying boxes of books and mementos.
Another student, Chris Snyder, 22, a Shirley resident and finance student, called Dowling’s closure “heartbreaking” as he left with a cardboard box full of computer equipment.
“I am upset, because, honestly, three days’ notice before a school closes is ridiculous — like, how would you feel if you had nine credits left, three classes, and your school shuts down?” Snyder said.
Dowling and state education officials have designated Molloy College, a 4,600-student private school in Rockville Centre, to coordinate the “teach-out” plan, according to Molloy President Drew Bogner.
The plan, which is standard procedure in academia, was put into effect Tuesday when Dowling officials announced the school’s closure. It includes advising students on other college programs, academic counseling, advice on transferring credits and relocating official transcripts for thousands of students and alumni, Bogner said.
“The phones have been ringing nonstop. People — rightly so — want to know how they are going to finish their degrees,” Bogner said.
As of last week, Dowling’s enrollment was about 1,500 students, with another 200 who planned to enter as freshmen in the fall, he said.
It was unclear Wednesday how many faculty and other staff members will lose their jobs. Dowling’s board of trustees, in a letter emailed Tuesday to employees, said staffers should not come to work Thursday and that all of their benefits would cease on that day.
The situation poses an extra challenge for international students in the United States on special visas.
Xiaojie He, 35, a graduate with a master’s in general management degree, said she came to the school from China. She was worried about other international students who could lose their visas if they are not enrolled in an accredited school.
“The international students, and even the staff, they had no idea what will happen now,” said He, a Manhattan resident. “Without a school, their visas expire and they have to go back” without a degree.
Dowling was required to file the “teach-out” plan before March 1 with its accrediting agency, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, based in Philadelphia. The commission’s spokesman said the plan named Molloy as the “primary contact institution” in the event of Dowling’s closure.
A copy of the document was not publicly available.
The plan allows for student transcripts to be sent to Molloy, although it was unclear Wednesday night when they would be available. Those official sealed transcripts are needed for students to gain acceptance at any institution to which they would transfer.
Late Wednesday, Dowling updated its website to say that students can obtain transcripts at the Oakdale campus through June 8, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“We will be talking with the administration at Dowling over the next few days to see how we can be helpful as they implement their closure plans and work with their students on identifying opportunities to complete their education,” said Jeanne Beattie, spokeswoman for the state Education Department.
Most professors and Dowling College employees refused to talk Wednesday, except to say they are saddened by the school’s closure.
Employees received word in an emailed letter at 5 p.m. Tuesday that the college was shutting down. Some had worked at the school for decades.
Stephen Saroli, a science professor, walked out of a building carrying biology books, a cow’s femur that he used in his classes and some clothing with Dowling insignia he had recently purchased. Both he and his wife, Roxanne, are graduates and were on campus with their 6-month-old baby, Jack.
“I’m just really sad, because it was a great school,” said Saroli, 55, of Deer Park, who graduated from the school and then taught there for 22 years. “They were in dire efforts to try and figure out a strategy to move on and save the school.”
Suffolk County Steve Bellone held an afternoon news conference to discuss the Dowling closure. He announced a dedicated hotline at the county’s Department of Labor to help Dowling employees find new jobs.
“Yesterday was a very sad day for all of us here in Suffolk County, and I think on Long Island,” Bellone said. “And, most importantly, for the family of Dowling College.”
He invited Dowling students to attend Suffolk County Community College, announcing he would waive the $40 application fee and defer the usual requirements for immunization records and transcripts.
Officials at other four-year colleges on the Island offered sentiments on the closing of the school. Many said they were ready to help Dowling students complete their degrees; however, it is up to each college to determine which credits they will accept.
There is no guarantee that course credits will transfer or that students will graduate on time. The Education Department cannot require other colleges to accept credits earned at Dowling, state officials said.
“The loss of Dowling to the Long Island higher education community is unfortunate,” said W. Hubert Keen, outgoing president of Farmingdale State College, which like Dowling has an undergraduate aviation program. “We will be aiding Dowling in any way we can. Our focus is on doing whatever is possible to help their students continue their education and earn their degrees. That should be everyone’s focus.”
With Chau Lam
Help for Dowling College students, staff
Molloy College is working with Dowling College to help Dowling students transition because of their school’s closure.
Dowling’s website said official student transcripts will be available at the Oakdale campus through June 8, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Here are opportunities for students to seek guidance.
Students may bring unofficial transcripts to these sessions.
Thursday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Molloy’s Suffolk Center, 7180 Republic Airport, East Farmingdale.
Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Molloy’s Rockville Centre campus, 1000 Hempstead Ave., Rockville Centre. Event to be held in the Wilbur Arts Building’s Hays Theatre.
June 9, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., Suffolk County Community College’s Ammerman campus, 533 College Rd., Selden.
Representatives from colleges across Long Island will be available to speak with students.
Website for more information
Hotline for employees
Dowling employees looking for help finding jobs can call a Suffolk County Department of Labor dedicated hotline at 631-853-6517.