Accrediting Commission Puts Eastern Gateway on Probation

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Eastern Gateway Community College has been placed on probation by the Higher Learning Commission for a period of up to two years over issues its president largely dismisses as concerns related to operational issues under the school’s past president.

The Chicago-based commission said it has changed Eastern Gateway’s status from “Accredited” to “Accredited – On Probation” because it determined the community college does not meet HLC’s criteria for accreditation related to teaching and learning; quality, resources and support; and teaching and learning: evaluation and improvement. 

While on probation, Eastern Gateway – which has campuses in Youngstown and Steubenville – will remain accredited and has the opportunity to remedy the issues that led to the sanction, the commission said. Eastern Gateway will be required to provide evidence to the commission that it has addressed the issues leading to the sanction by Feb. 1, 2023, in preparation for an on-site evaluation to take place no later than April of that year. In November 2023, the commission’s board of trustees will determine whether Eastern Gateway has complied and the probation can be removed. 

The commission’s findings stem from a review conducted a year ago, Michael Geoghegan, Eastern Gateway’s president, said in a phone interview Tuesday. The findings concern what procedures are in place for documenting outcomes for the commission to review, he asserted. 

“That doesn’t mean that we’re not serving our students,” he said.

Enrollment has grown 600% over the past four years, he continued. Since the state subsidy under the new performance-based formula was implemented in 2015, the subsidy has increased 132% to $15.3 million during the 2022 fiscal year, he said. Students are advancing to “top 100 universities, research universities, professional universities” or going directly into the workforce once they leave Eastern Gateway, he said.

“We’ve got excellent student outcomes. The review is not really focused on that,” Geoghegan said.

The action was taken following Eastern Gateway’s most recent comprehensive evaluation by the Higher Learning Commission, said Heather Berg, HLC director of communications and strategic projects. 

The mid-cycle review process included a virtual onsite visit last November, the Institutional Actions Council report and meeting in August, and the HLC Board of Trustees meeting last Thursday and Friday. Eastern Gateway was informed by a certified letter dated Monday of its change in accreditation status, which went into effect Nov. 4. 

According to the letter, the commission found that Eastern Gateway did not meet the following criteria for accreditation:

  • Faculty and staff needed for effective high-quality programs and student services;
  • Support for student learning and resources for effective teaching;
  • Ensures quality of its educational offerings;
  • Engages in ongoing assessment of student learning as part of its commitment to the educational outcomes of its students;
  • Pursues educational improvement through goals and strategies that improve retention, persistence and completion rates in its degree and certificate programs

HLC also concluded Eastern Gateway met, “with concerns,” the following accreditation criteria:

  • Provides opportunities for civic engagement in a diverse, multicultural society and globally connected world, as appropriate within its mission and for the constituencies it serves
  • Establishes and follows policies and processes to ensure fair and ethical behavior on the part of its governing board, administration, faculty and staff
  • Presents itself clearly and completely to its students and to the public
  • Demonstrates through its administrative structures and collaborative processes leadership is effective and enables the institution to fulfill its mission
  • Resource base supports its educational offerings and its plans for maintaining and strengthening their quality in the future
  • Engages in systematic and integrated planning and improvement 

Geoghegan emphasized that full-time faculty have increased to 75 from 48 when he first came to Eastern Gateway to serve as chief financial officer in 2017, with a commitment to increase that to 100 over the next three years. 

In a separate statement released Tuesday, Eastern Gateway acknowledged it experienced “significant leadership turmoil in early 2020” that led to “increased scrutiny.” In January 2020, the community college fired Dr. Jimmie Bruce as its president, leading to the appointment of Geoghegan as interim president until he was named president in mid-July 2020. 

Geoghegan also said Eastern Gateway and the commission have gone “back and forth” since last year’s visit, and another hearing in August. The community college submitted 13 pages of corrections to the commission’s findings with some corrections made but other material remains inaccurate, he maintained.   

“I would say HLC is very process-oriented and found us deficient in some of our processes, which we’re correcting,” he said. Eastern Gateway has to provide a report in 90 days on its plans for addressing the commission’s concerns, many of which are in the works, Geoghegan said. 

In most cases, other colleges and institutions will still accept Eastern Gateway’s credits in transfer or for admission to a higher degree programs. But students are encouraged to contact institutions about their admissions and transfer policies, the commission said. 

Eastern Gateway noted the temporary probation status does not compromise student financial aid or the recognition and awarding of degrees. The college also touted its innovative free college higher education model. “By documenting and demonstrating evidence of all we are accomplishing, we will serve as a model for the nation to remove barriers to higher education and continue to create opportunities and change lives,” EGCC said.

Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association, also expressed support for Eastern Gateway. 

“The National Education Association is a strong supporter of EGCC, its mission, and its faculty, staff and students,” he said. “The faculty and staff at EGCC are OEA members who are committed to providing the highest quality academic experience to students all over the country. 

“Our members meet students wherever they are in their academic journey, helping them achieve their goals, whether it’s advancing their careers, upping their skills, or simply furthering their education,” he continued. OEA and EGCC are aligned in our commitment to the success of all students.”

Pictured: Eastern Gateway Community College in Youngstown.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.