They trickled in and out of imposing Fortunoff Hall on Monday: a father-to-be, a high school teacher, a lacrosse player and a military veteran — Dowling College students united by uncertainty and frustration.
They are among hundreds whose education or professional plans have been brought to an abrupt halt by the Oakdale-based college’s impending close after years of financial instability and now, withdrawal of its academic accreditation.
At Monday’s transfer fair, which featured officials from Long Island University, the former students sought answers to a slate of problems that ran the gamut from unpaid-for diplomas to expired visas.
Khali Armstrong, 19, who expects to be a father soon, came to the event in the hope his 54 credits will transfer to LIU and his future will continue on track.
“I don’t want to put it on the back burner,” the psychology major from Coram said of his college career. “That’s what usually happens — and I don’t want to fall into the status quo.”
Armstrong is one of about 1,200 Dowling students who “still need to continue their journey,” President Albert Inserra said. After unsuccessfully seeking a financial partner, Dowling “had to begin to look for other ways to help students.”
The school set up partnerships with LIU and five other institutions that will review former students’ transcripts and facilitate transfers. LIU sponsored Monday’s fair and provided a “robust team” of admissions staff to answer questions about undergraduate and graduate admissions and provide credit evaluations, Inserra said.
Like Armstrong, many students aren’t sure how their credits will transfer to other institutions with different requirements and majors.
Inserra gave his assurance that most students with more than 60 credits will transfer seamlessly, though some have run into obstacles.
Donna Conway, 50, a high school teacher from Islip, plans to attend a second transfer fair Tuesday because LIU can accept only 12 of the 30 graduate credits she already completed. She sat in Fortunoff Hall’s elegant Hunt Room, choked with emotion over what she called the school’s “heartbreaking” demise.
“It’s shocking that a university that sets a standard the way Dowling always has is going down the way it is,” she said, gesturing to the room’s ornate wood carvings. “This was a Vanderbilt mansion.”
This week’s transfer fairs — being held through Wednesday — are geared toward those with degrees to complete. But some students are scrambling to renew student visas that no longer are valid if they are not enrolled in a degree program.
Kody Te Kanawa, 23, is a Canadian citizen and attended Dowling on a lacrosse scholarship. He graduated in the spring, but cannot find a teaching job because of his now-invalid student visa. Because of employee layoffs, Te Kanawa said he no longer has an international officer to go to with questions.
“It’s gotten to where we have to . . . hire immigration lawyers,” he said. “That’s not really an option if you come here on scholarship in the first place.”
Others, such as David Lisma, 29, are struggling with finances. A U.S. Navy veteran, Lisma commutes from Philadelphia and has a federal loan he’ll lose if he can’t get into LIU.
“Even if I transfer, I’m still losing thousands of dollars and time,” he said.
Amid the confusion, many students have turned to a repurposed club Facebook group, the Dowling College LOSER Club, for their information.
Richard Montchal, 22, of Central Islip, regularly posts to the group. He graduated in May but attended Monday’s fair to ask about his missing diploma.
In a conversation with Inserra, the president told him that Dowling has not yet paid for the Class of 2016’s diplomas.
“I’m happy that I got out before this,” Montchal said as he gestured to the transfer fair down the hall. “But still, it’s been a mess. Everyone’s freaking out.”