By Anisah Abdullah and Eric Schmid
Over 200 students from Dowling College’s School of Aviation began classes at more than five institutions nationwide this September after the school announced on May 31 it was closing.
Many of the students spent their entire summers scrambling to transfer to other institutions, some as far away as the University of North Dakota, and others to schools in Virginia, South Dakota and Florida.
“It was hands down the most stressful summer ever,” Sefton Oxford, a senior aviation management major who now takes online classes at Averett University in Virginia, said. “I went on vacation to Florida and when I was there I found out that Florida Tech Online wasn’t accepting most of my credits. That whole vacation was really spent searching for new schools.”
Alexander Hays and other former aviation students were forced into similar situations when Dowling closed due to irreparable debt.
“I had to take a lot of days off work because it required so much work taking a trip down to Long Island and visiting other schools,” Hays, an aviation management student focusing on professional flight, said. “I even ended a lot of plans this summer to do college work. I did it right up to the last day of summer and started from the first week of June.”
This semester, Hays is taking classes at the University of Maine near his home as he was unable to immediately attend his chosen school, Bowling Green State University in Ohio. He was frustrated that he had to spend his entire summer applying to other institutions.
Dowling’s aviation students faced a specific set of hardships, unlike other majors, to continue their higher education. Very few schools near Dowling’s campuses have aviation programs, and those that do could not accept every transfer credit.
“We found it hard to transfer all of their credits,” Ernie Shepelsky, Vaughn’s vice president of enrollment services, said. “Each college has its own set of criteria. Aviation students’ classes are very specific toward their program and there’s not a lot of room for electives.”
Farmingdale State College and Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in East Elmhurst were the most accommodating options for aviation students closest to Dowling’s two Long Island campuses.They both signed articulation agreements with Dowling to accept as many credits as possible, sometimes approving generous course substitutions.
Air traffic control courses did not transfer to Farmingdale because the school is not approved to teach air traffic control. This comes as air traffic controllers are at a 27-year low in the US, according to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
Farmingdale admitted 27 Dowling transfers into its aviation administration program, Dr. Jeanne Radigan, an associate professor and the chairperson of Farmingdale’s aviation department, said in an email. She added that their professional pilot program was already at a waitlist status for this school year. For many Dowling transfers, this meant they could not continue their flight training at Farmingdale.
Vaughn and Farmingdale accepted a total of 39 Dowling aviation transfers, 20% of the total.
“There’s no real playbook here and not a lot of precedence,” Shepelsky said. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years at a lot of colleges in the Tri-State area and this is an unusual situation. We’re trying to do our best.”
But KJ Graham, a junior aerospace management major now at Averett, and other transfers still have to stay in school longer. He said will graduate in December 2017 instead of May 2017.
Obtaining transcripts was a systemic problem that all of Dowling’s 1,794 students faced. Victor Alves, a senior aviation administration major now at Farmingdale State College, struggled to retrieve his transcripts in time.
“I only had three days to get transcripts prepared,” he said. “I had to wait in line for six hours and when I was next in line, the office closed and I had to do the same process over again the next day.”
Alves did not have time to prepare his transfer materials because he was leaving the country for two months. Like him, many students were forced to prepare their materials in a matter of days.
Still, students have positive things to say about the college.
“Dowing wasn’t a bad institution, it just put us in a really awkward situation.” Graham said.
Alves, Graham, Hays and Oxford agree that they would have remained at Dowling College, if given the opportunity, to round out their undergraduate education.