File photo: Denise Civiletti

Higher education had its highs and lows in Suffolk County in 2016.

The big low: the closing this year of the county’s first four-year private college, Dowling.

A big high: the continuing success of Suffolk County Community College. It now has 27,000 students. It’s the largest community college in the state. Its Eastern Campus south of Riverhead is doing well with more than 4,000 students.

A low: the closing of the Suffolk campus of St. John’s University. However, it has been sold to Amity Education Group of India which intends to use it as a site of an unusual venture of having international students live and study near New York. Also, Briarcliffe College, with a Suffolk campus, earlier announced it will shut down in 2018.

A semi-high: Stony Brook Southampton has been reviving, somewhat. As Long Island University’s Southampton College, it was shut down in 2005 after 42 years. (I taught journalism there until it closed.) The next year the campus was acquired for $35 million by New York State which proceeded to spend another $43 million to renovate it. But then Dr. Samuel Stanley, the new president of Stony Brook University, its home campus, announced in 2010 his decision to shut down all but a few programs.

A high: St. Joseph’s College Long Island, an offshoot of St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn, has now grown to nearly 3,000 students at its campus in Patchogue.

Meanwhile, Stony Brook University continues mightily. Its current student totals: more than 17,000 undergraduates and nearly 9,000 graduate students.

It’s remarkable that until 1959 there was no institution of higher education Suffolk could call its own. And the county’s population was counted at 666,784 in the 1960 Census. Neighboring Nassau had a few more people, 672,762, yet it had Adelphi College, Hofstra University and LIU’s C.W. Post College. And Nassau County Community College was founded in 1959. Straddling the border of both counties in Farmingdale was what began as the New York State School of Agriculture on Long Island in 1912 when both counties were rural. It’s booming now as four-year Farmingdale State College offering an array of academic programs with 8,000 students. But then it was a two-year agricultural and technical school.

Suffolk Community was founded in 1959 with classes at Riverhead High School and Sachem High School in Ronkonkoma, then moving to what became its main campus in Selden, the site of a former tuberculosis sanatorium. It later was named the Ammerman Campus for Dr. Albert Ammerman, the college’s president from 1959 to 1983. Two additional campuses rose: the Michael J. Grant Campus in Brentwood with now more than 9,000 students, named for a presiding officer of the Suffolk Legislature (from Brentwood). And then there’s the Eastern Campus south of Riverhead and often referred to as being in Riverhead but actually in Northampton in Southampton Town. (I’ve taught journalism there, too. It’s a sweet, homey campus.)

In 1959, too, Adelphi reached out from Garden City and launched Adelphi-Suffolk College in an unused public school building in Sayville. It later moved to Oakdale and, in 1968, became independent Dowling College named after its benefactor, New York City real estate developer Robert W. Dowling (who never attended college). I started at Antioch College in Ohio but deciding to get into journalism ASAP after an Antioch internship at the Cleveland Press, I headed back east and, figuring I needed more college to get into the field, went to Adelphi-Suffolk. I started a college newspaper there, named it The New Voice. I found Adelphi-Suffolk and then Dowling (I taught journalism there, too) very special. Dowling’s motto was “The Personal College.” That was true of it and Adelphi-Suffolk.

It’s a shame Dowling will no longer be. Closed in August after years of financial difficulty, the college filed for bankruptcy last month. Up for sale are its main 25-acre campus on the Connetquot River in Oakdale, including its signature structure, the former William K. Vanderbilt Mansion, and a 100-acre Shirley campus which had an aviation focus.

Just a quarter-mile west of Dowling and also in Oakdale was the Suffolk campus of Queens-based St. John’s University, purchased this year for $22.5 million to be part of Amity University of India.

Career Education Corp., owner of Briarcliffe, also tried to sell but couldn’t find a buyer. Patchogue has been the site of its Suffolk campus.

These closings touch me — and I’m sure many readers— personally. Beyond my teaching at two of the schools, a son of ours graduated from Briarcliffe with an associate’s degree in computer science and another graduated from Dowling, going on to become a lawyer. Son Adam is a former Riverhead town attorney.

It’s good news that Stony Brook Southampton, after years of looking like a ghost campus, a waste of state resources, has increased activity led by enterprising marine sciences and writing programs. With the plan for a new Southampton Hospital to be built on the 84-acre campus, many programs in health sciences would be coming. Still, cutting short the life there of what had been at its heart and was becoming successful — an environment-focused college — was a bad decision

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books. Grossman and his wife Janet live in Sag Harbor.

Suffolk Closeup is a syndicated opinion column on issues of concern to Suffolk County residents.

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