Nassau Community College is something of an oasis in the county’s heavily developed and industrialized hub. Venerable sycamore and maple trees line its narrow roads. In its center is an expansive grass field where the football team practices and students play Frisbee. On its southern edge is a 19-acre nature sanctuary of tall grass and wildflowers, the last remnant of the once great, 60,000-acre Hempstead Plains.
NCC has sleek new buildings, like its Life Sciences Center, on the east side of the campus, and its Annex, on Endo Boulevard, just outside the college’s gates. And the Nassau County Police Department plans to construct a $40 million, state-of-the-art training center at the college. Officials broke ground on the facility in February 2015.
At first glance, NCC appears picturesque. Look a little harder, though, and deep cracks become all too glaring. What you find is a collection of aging, mostly redbrick structures that have clearly seen better days. Many have old, energy-inefficient windows with cracked and peeling paint.
Worse still, the college has, academically speaking, been adrift over the past four years without a permanent president to offer a solid vision for the future of this vital institution. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which accredits the college, has found NCC to be deficient in seven of 14 central criteria that it uses to judge a school’s effectiveness. A number of the standards relate to teaching and learning.
Others relate to integrity. Too often, NCC is seen as a Republican Party patronage mill. Most recently –– and most visibly –– Kate Murray, the former Town of Hempstead supervisor and a staunch GOP partisan, who lost her bid for district attorney last fall, was hired as the school’s acting general counsel, at $151,000 a year.
A Middle States panel is expected to meet this month to discuss NCC’s accreditation. The college could receive a warning, or be put on probation until it gets its house in order.
Governed by a board of trustees and the State University of New York, NCC operates with a budget of just over $213.6 million. Between 2010 and 2015, the college lost 127 full-time employees, a reduction of more than 10 percent, at the same time that tuition increased, according to its 2016 budget. This academic year, annual tuition went up $300, to $4,534.
We hope and trust that the installation of W. Hubert Keen as the college’s president will usher in a new era at NCC –– one in which academic standards are raised while facilities are upgraded and modernized –– or, at the very least, repaired. An academic for four decades –– and most recently president of Farmingdale State College — Keen has a stellar reputation in higher education circles.
The 22,000 students who attend NCC are depending on him to quell the turbulence that has swirled around the college in recent years.
NCC provides a post-secondary education that, financially speaking, would otherwise be unavailable to many students. Many others attend their first two years of college at NCC and then transfer their credits to four-year schools to save precious tuition dollars and reduce their student loan burdens.
No doubt, Nassau Community College serves a vital purpose. It must –– must –– remain viable for decades to come. In recent weeks we’ve heard about the imminent closing of Dowling College in Oakdale, which has been a vital Long Island institution for five decades. NCC’s leaders cannot allow the same fate to befall their college.