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Graduation-transfer rate plunges at NCC

Students walk through the campus of Nassau Community

Students walk through the campus of Nassau Community College in Garden City. (April 28, 2011) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau Community College has fallen near the bottom statewide in graduation and transfer rates as it endures a period of "prolonged administrative turmoil," including the departure of two presidents, according to a new report by County Comptroller George Maragos.

The report found that from 2004 to 2012, the only period for which data on the subject are available, NCC's combined graduation and transfer rate to four-year universities -- a key measure in determining student success -- plunged by more than a third to 28 percent. That put the school 31st out of the 35 SUNY and CUNY community colleges statewide. NCC was ranked as high as ninth in 2005 with a 45 percent graduation and transfer rate.

"Parents and students should know that the quality of education at Nassau Community College has diminished," Maragos said in an interview. "The administration should take this as a wake-up call that they need to take immediate steps to reverse this trend."

NCC has experienced significant turmoil since 2010, when Sean Fanelli retired after 27 years as president. His replacement, Donald Astrab, who in 2011 eliminated 40 full-time faculty positions in a budget squeeze, left in 2012 after two faculty no-confidence votes. Acting President Kenneth Saunders was appointed in January 2013.

College trustees disbanded a presidential search committee in September, a week after a strike by the adjunct faculty union over pay raises that canceled some classes and forced a court injunction, and after criticism over whether favoritism was playing a role in the search.

In response to the county comptroller's report, NCC provided a June 9 letter to Maragos in which Saunders denied links between the performance of the school's 23,000 students and administrative disputes. He noted that neither Suffolk nor Westchester community colleges have experienced recent management upheaval, but saw declines in graduation and transfer rates.

"The issues raised by the report are serious in terms of the impact on students and the impact on the college's finances," wrote Saunders, who said staff will examine the cause of graduation and transfer rate declines.

SCC spokesman Drew Biondo said the school graduated its largest class ever last month. He attributed declining transfer rates in part to the fact that 62 percent of SCC students must take remedial classes before they can take college-level courses.

WCC spokesman Patrick Hennessey said the school had its largest graduating class ever last month and currently has near-record enrollment.

Federal records show that almost half of community colleges statewide saw their graduation and transfer rates decrease from 2010 to 2012, with declines that averaged 8 percent.

NCC, SCC and WCC had the largest drops during the period. NCC's rate went from 38 percent in 2010 to 28 percent in 2012. Suffolk's dipped from 35 percent to 27 percent, while Westchester's dropped from 33 percent to 18 percent. Suffolk ranks 32nd in the categories, while Westchester is in last place statewide, records show.

State university officials declined immediate comment, saying they had not seen the Maragos report.

But Martha Kanter, a former federal under secretary of education, said the recovering economy could have spurred declines at local community colleges.

"When jobs come back, community college enrollment declines," said Kanter, a professor of higher education at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. "Students go to work."

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated information about former NCC president Sean Fanelli's retirement.

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