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Dowling College to remain open as talks continue, officials say

A runner passes Dowling College's Rudolph Campus in

A runner passes Dowling College's Rudolph Campus in Oakdale on Wednesday, June 8, 2016. School officials said Dowling, which had been scheduled to close Wednesday, will remain open as affiliation talks continue with an education investment firm based in the United Kingdom. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

Dowling College will remain open as the Oakdale school’s trustees continue talks to affiliate with Global University Systems, an education investment firm based in the United Kingdom, the school’s officials said Wednesday.

The college’s president, Albert Inserra, announced in a statement that negotiations with the international company have “enabled the college’s board to rescind the motion to close the school.”

“We know how difficult the last week has been for our students, our faculty and our staff,” Inserra said in the statement, released just before 6 p.m. “We recognize the importance of a sustained Dowling College to our entire Dowling family and community, including most of all our student body.”

The reversal was the latest turn of events for the 48-year-old liberal arts college struggling with financial woes, dropping enrollment, unstable leadership and accreditation uncertainty.

Since May 31, Dowling — beset by $54 million in long-term debt — has set two different days it would close: June 3 and Wednesday. On both of those days, the trustees invoked continuing discussions with Global University Systems in saying the college would remain open.

In the scrum of uncertainty, it was unclear Wednesday night what the college’s latest pronouncement means for students or those who worked there.

The news of closure has sent about 1,700 students struggling to figure out whether and how to transfer to other schools. Dowling’s 453 faculty and other staff were told in a May 31 email from Inserra and trustees that their final day of employment was June 1.

The college president, in a brief interview Wednesday evening, said the timeline for the negotiations with Global University Systems is pegged to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education’s June 23 meeting. The Philadelphia-based agency, which accredits the college, placed Dowling on warning two years ago.

“This is not going to be a protracted negotiation,” Inserra said. “It has to unfold over the next few weeks.”

If Dowling does affiliate with the private, for-profit firm, the president said, the college still would need its current student body and need to be accredited by Middle States.

“This is an affiliation agreement that would not change who we are,” Inserra said.

Richard Pokrass, spokesman for Middle States, said earlier Wednesday that the full commission, at its June meeting, is slated to determine Dowling’s reaccreditation status. The school’s trustees, in a brief email late Tuesday night, had notified the commission of the intention to remain open for an unspecified time period.

Both Inserra and Michael Puorro, chairman of Dowling’s board, said talks are happening around the clock and they are hopeful an agreement can be reached. Neither could say how often they could provide updates.

“There’s no way to say that tomorrow we will have a definitive answer,” Inserra said.

Puorro declined to give details on the talks, citing a confidentiality agreement. He said the deal is “dictated by many complicated decisions.”

Calls and email messages Wednesday to the state Education Department were not returned.

Global University Systems grants undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, in addition to language and vocational programs through its institutions in the UK, Canada, Germany and Singapore and online courses. Registered in the Netherlands, it recruits its students from more than 150 countries.

The company was founded in 2013 by Aaron Etingen, who in 2003 founded the London School of Business & Finance. The company gets its students through a network of more than 1,700 active independent education agents and 500 staff dedicated to marketing, sales and business development, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

Official student transcripts still were being held at Dowling’s main campus in Oakdale, where the grounds were quiet on Wednesday.

Shatisha Oswald, 36, of Aquebogue, was among the few students and alums on campus. She was optimistic about alumni efforts to save the school, saying she had her “fingers crossed” about efforts to keep it open.

“Hopefully we have enough people to save the school and save the school for future students, because it’s a beautiful school to be in,” she said.

Oswald, who graduated from Dowling in 2015 with a degree in teaching and works as a substitute teacher and at Home Depot, said her fondest memories are of the students and professors.

“It’s sad. It’s very heartfelt,” she said. “I didn’t think I would be as emotional as I was when I got here . . . I’m definitely choking up today.”

Students need official transcripts to transfer to other institutions, and many local colleges were holding events this week and next that are geared to help Dowling students continue their educations. Admissions and enrollment counselors have said students can bring unofficial transcripts for review.

A big Transfer Fair, with representatives of more than 50 universities and colleges from throughout the region, is scheduled Thursday afternoon at Suffolk County Community College’s Ammerman campus in Selden, and both Adelphi University and Farmingdale State College are holding information sessions Thursday. New York Institute of Technology has a transfer event scheduled Monday.

When Dowling announced its closure, Molloy College in Rockville Centre was designated as the primary contact for displaced students and families. That school already held two information sessions to assist students seeking information on how to complete their degrees.

Pokrass, from Middle States, said Dowling’s “teach-out” plan for its students will remain on file.

“Even if the college plans to remain in operation for now, it is still required to have the teach-out plan in place in case it needs to be fully implemented following any commission action on June 23,” he said.

With Jean-Paul Salamanca

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