Five Towns College, Merrick Campus

The First 40 Years

Today, Five Towns College has nearly 30 undergraduate and graduate programs of study, an enrollment of approximately 1,000 students. It is difficult to imagine the humble beginnings of this institution and the success of our graduates.


The vision for Five Towns College began in 1969, when the baby boom generation was flooding New York area colleges and universities. At that time the community college movement was in its infancy, the State University of New York was filled to capacity, and the baby boom generation was exploding. Seats in existing colleges and universities were almost impossible to find, as draft- age men sought deferments from the Vietnam War by enrolling in college.


At that time, a group of community leaders, led by the Five Towns College founders, Dr. Stanley G. Cohen and Mrs. Lorraine Kleinman Cohen, understood the great need for higher education services, particularly in the southwestern corner of Nassau County, NY – a geographic region commonly known as “The Five Towns.” Under their leadership, the group petitioned the New York State Board of Regents for a Charter to establish Five Towns College.


The original site for the College was to be in Lawrence, NY – one of the Five Towns. However, the Board of Regents did not issue a Charter for the College until February 24, 1972. By that time the original campus site in Lawrence was no longer available. A series of delays in those days had the College tentatively located in Lynbrook and then Baldwin. When the grand opening finally came to pass in 1974, the College had leased a school building in Merrick, NY. The opening in 1974 corresponded with the end of the Vietnam War and the end of the college draft deferment.


Five Towns College occupied the Merrick campus for nearly ten (10) years until 1982. During those formative years, several innovative programs were launched. The College was the first in New York State to establish a program in jazz/commercial music, and it was the first to establish a program in music business. Although the College was originally conceived as a “business” college, music quickly became its forte.


The Merrick years are considered by some to have been a “golden age.” The campus was smaller and simpler, but the students it attracted came in part because of its eclectic and creative atmosphere. Original faculty members included music legends such as vibraphonist Ray Alexander, pianist Lee Evans, guitarist Ray Gogarty, electronic music pioneer Don Muro, and percussionist Mickey Sheen. Original faculty members include guitarist Peter Rogine who is still an active faculty member.


In response to growing enrollments and the need for more space, in 1982 the College pulled up stakes and moved to just a few miles east to Seaford, NY. Even in those years, people who were unfamiliar with the history of the College would wonder why Five Towns College was located in Seaford.


The Seaford years were a wonderful time of growth and maturity. The College achieved regional accreditation in 1988, was elevated to baccalaureate status in 1990 and then to graduate status in 1991 when it was authorized to confer the Master of Music (M.M.) degree. It was in Seaford that the College constructed its first 24- track recording studio, experimented with closed-circuit radio broadcasting, and vastly expanded student courses and services. By 1990, however, it was clear that the College was outgrowing the Seaford campus, and once again a move would be required.
A committee was formed to study the long-range campus needs of the College. Recommendations were made for the College to relocate or purchase the Seaford campus and build additions. The Board of Trustees favored the former approach.


Between 1990 and 1992 the College identified no less than 18 potential campus locations, including sites in Elmont, Bellmore, and Kings Park, Long Island. However, it was the Dix Hills campus which was ultimately selected with the encouragement of Suffolk County officials. After the class of 1992 graduated, the College was literally packed up in a fleet of tractor-trailers and moved to Dix Hills, NY, where its permanent home has been located ever since.


The Dix Hills campus was the site of the original Half Hollow Hills High School, when that school district centralized in the 1950s. After Half Hollow Hills High School East was built on nearby Vanderbilt Parkway, the site became the Burr’s Lane Junior High School. Burr’s Lane was open until 1990, when it was closed due to declining enrollment.


Since 1992 the College has made major strides. The physical plant has been completely updated with state-of-the-art technology and learning environments. Four modern residence halls, known as "Living/Learning Centers," with state-of-the-art technology were built on the campus. The College expanded its state-of-the-art audio recording studios, film and television sound stages, and has made innumerable other improvements.


Academically, the College has added graduate programs, and today is only the 34th institution of higher education in the State of New York with the authority to confer degrees at the doctoral level, and only the 8th institution with the authority to confer the Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.) degree. The College has established a national reputation for programs in music, media, and the performing arts, and attracts students from across New York State, the nation, and several foreign countries. In addition to being accredited by the Middle States Association Commission on Higher Education, the College’s Education Division, which offers programs in Childhood Education (grades 1 – 6) and Music Education (grades K – 12) at both the undergraduate and graduate level, is accredited by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).


Today, more than ever before, Five Towns College is a community of scholars, which focuses upon music, media, business, education and the performing arts. This unique college is defined by the talented men and women who form its constituency: students, faculty and staff alike.
We hope this journey through time will help you to better appreciate the educational foundations upon which Five Towns College was built, and will continue to grow throughout the years.