Dowling College officials said they are still able to grant degrees through the state’s Board of Regents for students who finish their necessary coursework over the summer at other institutions.
Administrators for the first time provided information for students on how they would complete their degrees, according to a campus email blast and a letter posted on the college’s website this week.
State officials confirmed Tuesday they could confer degrees to eligible Dowling students, yet noting the department had limited authority to intervene as long as Dowling stayed open.
“We have done everything we can do to encourage, but it’s nothing in which the state Education Department can intervene,” Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said in Albany at the higher education committee meeting of the Regents, which oversees colleges, schools and other educational and cultural institutions.
Dowling students who were nearest to graduation — with 12 or fewer credits left of required coursework — were among the most affected when the Oakdale liberal arts college canceled its summer session and announced it would close May 31. The debt-ridden school had delayed its closure twice and then announced it would be open with a support staff of 19 as it tries to strike a deal with Global University Systems, an educational investment firm.
“While this process is put in place to accommodate the needs of our students, our long-term goal remains the same, which is to complete an agreement with our affiliation partner, Global University Systems, which will allow Dowling to remain open,” Dowling College President Albert Inserra wrote in the letter to students. “Again, my apologies for the events that have transpired over the last couple of weeks. The Board of Trustees, administration, and staff, have been working around the clock to achieve a goal that I think we share, which is Dowling must remain Dowling!”
Inserra, appointed president in August 2014, said in an email message to Newsday Tuesday that “negotiations continue in earnest.”
Amid the uncertainty of the last two weeks, about 1,700 Dowling students were forced to look for other colleges earlier this month. It is unclear how many students had left the college earlier or how many have remained since Dowling officials announce the college would remain open. Many students had relied on a teach-out plan put into place by the school’s accrediting agency, the Middle State Commission on Higher Education in Philadelphia, and the state Education Department. A copy of that plan is not publicly available.
The plan, which is implemented in the days after a postsecondary institution announces closure, had named the primary contact for displaced Dowling students as Molloy College, a private 4,500-student college in Rockville Centre. Because Dowling is technically open — although there are no summer classes nor a schedule for the Fall semester — the plan is no longer in effect and students would need to find other colleges and make sure their credits transferred accordingly. Official transcripts, which are needed to transfer colleges, are available at Dowling’s Oakdale campus from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“We continue to see students even though we are no longer the official contact and we are trying to help them in any way we can,” said Marguerite Lane, dean of admissions at Molloy.
In the Regents’ higher education meeting, Regent Roger Tilles of Great Neck raised questions on the status of Dowling, noting that the announcements were difficult to follow.
“It’s somewhat like shoveling mercury with a pitchfork,” Tilles said. “I haven’t had an update in three or four days, and I’m way behind. I just think it’s a tragic situation for students.”
John D’Agati, the deputy state education commissioner, launched into that explanation of what the department could do, if Dowling closed, raising the possibility of Regents conferring the degrees after the students earned their missing credits. The number of credits required for a bachelor’s degree varies by program but it is typically 120.
“The college isn’t closed, so the students are in sort of a no man’s land,” he said.