A nongovernmental agency that accredits institutions of higher learning has warned Dowling College that it must meet a list of 14 required standards or risk losing its accreditation.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education told Dowling on June 26 that it had not complied with three of the 14 accreditation standards.

However, a Middle States spokesman said the commission also found the Oakdale college had made strides in some areas.

"They're [the commission] not saying there's a problem with the quality of teaching," Middle States spokesman Richard Pokrass said. "There is undoubtedly good teaching going on."

The agency's warning is the latest sign of trouble for the school.

In March, Moody's Investors Service downgraded Dowling's credit rating to Ca from Caa1, saying the college's debt was "likely in, or very near, default." Last fall, college officials blamed struggling finances and declining enrollment for staff layoffs and reassignments.

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Middle States found Dowling out of compliance in the areas of institutional resources, assessment of student learning and institutional assessment.

The commission has asked Dowling to devise a financial stabilization plan, establish clear goals to be used by various departments and units, and create ways to assess the student learning process.

The commission also warned nine other colleges about their accreditation on June 26.

"While these standards are not directly related to the quality of instruction, faculty or the strength of the student body, they are areas that are receiving considerable attention by Dowling to ensure we retain accreditation," Dowling President Norman Smith said.

Dowling will retain its accreditation while it works to comply with Middle States standards.

Pokrass said Dowling must report back to the commission in March 2015. A commission team will then visit the school and a final accreditation decision might not come until 2016.

Middle States has removed accreditation from only two colleges in the past 10 years, Pokrass said.

Dowling spokesman Gary Lewi said Middle States found positive aspects during its accreditation review.

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The commission's report observed that Dowling is committed to its educational mission, all groups work together for the good of students and the institution, and that academic quality control is important.

According to the Middle States report, Dowling has about 2,400 undergraduate and graduate students.

Smith said "there is no question that the financial condition here needs to improve."

Smith said many of Dowling's financial problems stem from a loss of teaching jobs on Long Island, which means fewer people are seeking degrees in education -- once a mainstay of the college's finances.

"We have to retool and consolidate," Smith said.