Students are off to class at Racanelli Learning Resources Center...

Students are off to class at Racanelli Learning Resources Center at Dowling College in Oakdale. (April 17, 2012) Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

Dowling College officials have laid off staff members and reassigned others in recent weeks in a downsizing effort because of declining enrollment and struggling finances.

President Norman Smith refused to say how many people were affected, which jobs were cut or who was asked to leave, citing confidentiality agreements. He said the cuts were "not significant" and involved "only a couple of people."

"We are changing assignments and we are reorganizing people because of the enrollment declines of the last few years," said Smith, who took over as president of the Oakdale liberal arts school in late May. "It's part of a collection of activities that will make us a stronger college. Change is critical for the future of the institution."

Dowling board chairman Michael Puorro, in a statement Friday, said six noninstructional positions were eliminated recently, some stemming from the August closing of student housing at the Brookhaven campus.

"Other position reductions that could occur will be small in number, and some will be made through attrition," Puorro's statement said. Dowling will finish the calendar year with "a modest surplus," he said.

As part of the changes, faculty will take on academic advising roles previously held by nonacademic staff members. Smith said the move will ensure higher graduation rates because of greater student-faculty contact, and the advisers will be responsible for making sure students have what they need to graduate.

"Anybody in higher education would look at this and say it is a good move for the college," he said.

The reassignments are part of a series of efforts to "right-size" the college in the last few months.

Dowling also has launched a new, major marketing campaign to recruit students -- many from out of the Long Island area -- by emphasizing the waterfront campus and its proximity to major employers on the Island and in New York City.

The number of full-time-equivalent students registered for Dowling's fall semester was 2,500, Smith has said. That represents a decline from 2,747 for fall 2012.

Dowling faculty held academic advising roles until a shift in the 1990s, when students began going to staff members for those needs. "Improvements in faculty advising enhance the student experience," said Lori Zaikowski, president of the full-time faculty union at Dowling.

In addition to steep enrollment declines, the school has had a poor credit rating, is millions of dollars in debt and has had unstable leadership in recent years.

With Kathleen Kerr

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