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Dowling College to lose accreditation Aug. 31, agency says

A view of Dowling College in Oakdale on

A view of Dowling College in Oakdale on Thursday, June 9, 2016. Photo Credit: Chuck Fadely

Dowling College will lose its accreditation on Aug. 31 and must implement a plan for students to complete their degrees at other institutions, according to a report Tuesday from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

The independent agency, which measures the quality of more than 500 colleges and universities, decided at its meeting Thursday to withdraw Dowling’s accreditation based upon two years of closely monitoring the private liberal arts school’s financial future and ability to serve its students.

The commission notified college officials directly on Monday, Middle States spokesman Richard Pokrass said Tuesday. The agency’s report was posted on its website.

The effect of Middle States’ decision on Dowling’s struggle to remain open was not immediately clear. The college technically is able to continue operating without accreditation.

Dowling’s status has been unpredictable since May 31, when officials announced it would close and laid off faculty and staff — and then twice postponed closure dates as they sought an affiliation agreement with an educational investment company based in the United Kingdom.

“We are in receipt of the Middle States decision and after a comprehensive review of the document the board will issue a statement in response,” a Dowling spokesman said late Tuesday afternoon.

Earlier Tuesday, Dowling President Albert Inserra said the college’s board of trustees was scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss the Middle States decision. He declined to comment until after that meeting.

Inserra, who has been Dowling’s president since August 2014, appeared in person before commission officials on Thursday, asking them to delay their accreditation decision so the college could have more time to complete the potential deal with Global University Systems.

The 48-year-old college becomes the fourth institution to lose accreditation by Middle States since 2009, Pokrass said. Losing accreditation means the college’s students no longer may be eligible for federal and state financial aid. Many employers require graduates to have degrees from only accredited postsecondary institutions.

Sources had told Newsday this month that difficulty in restructuring Dowling’s $54 million in long-term debt was the key obstacle to finalizing an agreement with GUS.

After Dowling’s May 31 closure announcement, about 1,700 students scrambled to find alternate ways to finish their degrees — with those closest to graduation being affected the most. More than 450 employees were laid off. The closure was delayed twice so trustees could continue talking with GUS and, on June 9, Dowling officials announced the college would remain open “under streamlined operations” with a staff of 19.

Dowling has been on warning regarding its accreditation since June 2014, when a Middle States report showed the school had failed to comply with three major standards. While on warning, the college remained accredited.

The school’s officials have the option to appeal the withdrawal of accreditation, under limited circumstances, and would bear the cost of such an appeal.

Before the commission’s meeting Thursday, Dowling had been required to 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 had to provide Middle States with a “teach-out” plan, describing how students would be accommodated if it were closed.

The loss of accreditation does not necessarily trigger a teach-out plan, according to state Education Department officials.

Dowling student Jennifer Guerrazzi, 25, of Mount Sinai, said she is hoping for a teach-out plan as soon as possible. She had intended to complete her master’s degree in education over the summer, before the college canceled its summer courses. She would spend more time and money — not to mention a delay in starting her career in special education — if she were to transfer.

If a teach-out plan were in place, she would need to take only one class to finish, she said.

“It is absolutely ridiculous that they’re still stringing us along like this,” said Guerrazzi, who already has about $60,000 in student loans. “There’s a lot of blame to go around, but I’m surprised no one in the state Education Department has emailed us or contacted us. We are all in limbo and right now we are getting nothing.”

Earlier this month, during Dowling’s initial announcement of closure, Molloy College was designated as the institution to carry out the teach-out plan. That was rescinded when Dowling remained open.

It was unclear Tuesday whether those same procedures would be in place on Aug. 31.

The report from the commission’s decision said the college’s officials also must give notice of Middle States’ action to the Dowling College community, including all governing board members, students, full-time faculty and staff, and other faculty and staff members with significant roles.

College officials also must notify current and prospective students of the withdrawal of Middle States accreditation effective Aug. 31, and post accurate information about the institution’s accreditation status wherever the institution’s web pages, publications and announcements make reference to Middle States accreditation and in all other relevant places, such as wherever information is provided to prospective students.

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