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Dowling College set to close Wednesday; talks said to be ongoing


Founded 48 years ago, Dowling College is no stranger to unexplained debt and personnel turnover. Here are key facts to know about the history of Dowling College. (Credit: Ed Betz)

Dowling College is scheduled to shut its doors Wednesday even as trustees said they still were negotiating with a global educational investment firm to prevent closure of the 48-year-old liberal arts school, which is saddled with $54 million in long-term debt.

College officials and the school’s website indicated Tuesday evening that talks were ongoing with Global University Systems, a private, for-profit company based in the United Kingdom that offers accredited academic undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, vocational and professional qualifications and language courses at its institutions in the UK, Canada, Germany and Singapore and through online courses.

Dowling President Albert Inserra and Michael Puorro, chairman of the college’s board of trustees, did not answer questions Tuesday on the status of the talks, and a call to the state attorney general’s office seeking information on the negotiations was not returned. Calls and email messages to Global University System’s main office in London seeking comment were not returned.

At about 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, there was little activity on the school’s Oakdale campus, where a security guard manned the main booth.

Dowling, with campuses in Oakdale and Shirley, has laid off 453 employees, according to a regulatory filing posted Tuesday on the state Department of Labor’s website — the first figure released publicly of the number of workers affected by the impending closure. The notice under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or WARN act, was dated Friday and indicated the workers were laid off June 1 because of the college’s closure.

About 130 Dowling faculty members are represented by the state’s largest teachers union, which said Tuesday it may go to court to seek termination pay and any other benefits that professors may have lost.

“We will explore every avenue, including legal action, to ensure our members’ rights are protected,” said Carl Korn, spokesman for New York State United Teachers. He said representatives from the union’s regional Hauppauge office had been in touch “nearly hourly” with local leaders since Dowling announced it was closing its doors.

Last week, after months of uncertainty and doubt about its financial standing, the private college canceled its summer classes and announced it would close June 3 following failed attempts to secure an affiliation with an academic partner. That partner was confirmed to be Global University Systems.

The college’s employees initially were told their jobs would end on June 1. But trustees on Friday decided to delay the school’s closure to Wednesday because they said talks with Global had become more viable. Trustees also extended to Wednesday the time that students or former students could get official transcripts at the Oakdale campus.

On Tuesday, Dowling’s bucolic campus alongside the Connetquot River was all but empty.

Mike Gargan, 25, of Rocky Point, who graduated in 2013 with a degree in sports management, was there to get a copy of his transcript.

“It hit home,” he said of the impending closure, calling the school’s situation “a shame.”

“I made a lot of great friends,” said Gargan, who recalled throwing Frisbees with this friends on the Great Lawn and the work he put in to get his degree, an accomplishment he considers a milestone in his life.

The college’s “teach-out” plan for its 1,700 students went into effect last week. Molloy College, designated the primary contact for students and families, held an information session to assist displaced students seeking information on how to complete their degrees. Other local schools, including St. Joseph’s College, Farmingdale State College and Adelphi University, are holding events this week for Dowling students looking to continue their education elsewhere.

On Thursday, a big “Transfer Fair,” with representatives of nearly 40 universities and colleges from throughout the region, is scheduled at Suffolk County Community College’s Ammerman campus in Selden.

Dowling, which also has an extension site in Manhattan, has been plagued for years by financial troubles, plummeting enrollment and unstable leadership. The school relied heavily on teacher training, the demand for which has declined in recent years. In addition to its School of Education, Dowling has offered programs in liberal arts, aviation and business.

The college’s reaccreditation was to be up for consideration on June 23 at a meeting of the Middle States Commission on High Education. The commission, based in Philadelphia, put Dowling on warning in the fall and required the college to provide its teach-out plan in the event of accreditation loss and closure.

Student transcripts still were in Dowling’s custody Tuesday. It was unclear whether those would be turned over to Molloy, as previously announced, or to the state Education Department. State education officials did not return messages Tuesday seeking answers on where student transcripts were located.

Dowling’s alumni association, in a separate effort, has said it was working on a plan with a “substantial entity” that would be in a position to donate money to help pay down Dowling’s debt. The “entity” was not named. The group also created a fundraising web page,

“I appreciate the college president’s continued collaboration with the alumni association,” said Frank Corso, the group’s president. “We are all working hard to find a solution, and I’m hopeful that our efforts will bear fruit so that current and incoming Dowling College students can realize their dreams of becoming Dowling College graduates.”

The association could not guarantee that any donations would be returned if the college closes. The group does not have tax-exempt status and donations are not tax-deductible.

Global University Systems recruits its students from more than 150 countries through a network of over 1,700 active independent education agents and 500 staff dedicated to marketing, sales and business development. The company’s founder and chief executive officer is Aaron Etingen, who in 2003 founded the London School of Business & Finance.

The company posted more than $300 million in revenue in the 12 months ending in February 2015, according to the credit agency Moody’s Investors Service.

If Dowling closes, it would be the third small, private liberal arts college to shut its doors in recent weeks. Burlington College in Vermont, formerly led by Jane Sanders, the wife of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, announced it would close after taking on heavy debt. St. Catharine College in Kentucky had only 600 students this year and predicted that number to drop to 475 in the fall, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, an industry publication.

Dowling College was founded by the late real estate investor and philanthropist Robert W. Dowling. The school is on property once owned by the Vanderbilt family and includes a mansion built in 1901.

For Katie McGrath, 31, a longtime resident of Oakdale, Dowling was an ever-present part of life.

On Tuesday, the 2007 graduate was back on campus to pick up her transcript. McGrath, who was a member of Dowling’s cross-country team, said she met her fiancé Matt Dideriksen, who was on the rowing team, at the college.

When McGrath, who got her degree in education and works as a personal trainer, said she found out through social media last week about Dowling’s expected closing and was “sad, but not too surprised.”

“I heard they were having some problems for a while,” McGrath said.

With John Hildebrand and Jean-Paul Salamanca

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