Department of Education Directs EGCC to Halt Free College Program

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Eastern Gateway Community College announced Wednesday that it would abide by a directive issued by the U.S. Department of Education to cease its Free College Benefit Program “until the program is redesigned,” according to a press release.

The announcement came after EGCC received a letter Monday from the Federal Student Aid Division of the Department of Education that identified concerns over the program as part of a federal financial aid program review.

“Although EGCC firmly believes its Free College Benefit Program administration is fully compliant with federal law, the college must follow the direction from ED [Department of Education] until the issues are resolved,” the college said.

Officials from Eastern Gateway note over the past four years the annual federal Title IV compliance audits have not identified any concerns with the administration of the Free College Benefit Program.

“We vigorously disagree with their analysis and recommendation and have incorporated our objections and legal counsel’s analysis in a letter to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and his top deputies,” stated President Michael Geoghegan. “Until this issue is resolved, which we hope will be soon, we will continue to enroll students and notify new and prospective students of the situation, which we hope will be resolved quickly.”

More than 75,000 EGCC students have participated in the Free College program since 2015, which has saved students more than $175 million, according to Eastern Gateway. Those students then went on to pursue additional education at 600 institutions across the U.S.

The directive means that Eastern Gatway is prohibited from distributing federal Pell Grants to new students enrolling in the Free College program until the program is redesigned, the college said.

“EGCC understands that Pell Grant funding is necessary for many students to access higher education,” said the school’s senior vice president and chief student affairs officer, Christina Wanat. “We understand that this may cause significant difficulty and hardship for our Free College students and we are working hard to resolve this for them.”

The college is notifying students enrolled or planning to enroll for the fall 2022 semester not to anticipate receiving Pell Grant funding until the matter is resolved.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.