Eastern Gateway Faculty Receive Nonrenewal Notices

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – All Eastern Gateway Community College full-time faculty received notices this week that their contracts weren’t being renewed.

The letters, dated March 28, went to the 80 full-time faculty members, said James Corrin, president of the faculty union.

“We want to inform you that your teaching obligations to the College will be fulfilled after graduation,” the letter states. “Eastern Gateway has decided not to renew your employment contract for the upcoming academic year. As per your contract terms, you will be employed through July 31, 2024, which covers your 2023-24 contract period. Per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, you will still have responsibilities through graduation.”

Corrin said faculty contracts run annually from Aug. 1 through July 31.

In a statement Friday, John Crooks, Eastern Gateway interim president, said, “We had to make the difficult decision based on the financial constraints placed upon the college and our decision earlier in the year to pause enrollment following the spring semester. I want to thank you, our faculty members, for your dedication to your students and your commitment to the community we serve at Eastern Gateway. There are thousands of Eastern Gateway graduates who understand the hard work you put in to sharpen their skills while helping them reach their higher educational goals and putting them on a better path for success.”

College trustees voted March 20 to begin the process June 30 to dissolve the college without sufficient additional funds by May 31. Trustees also voted to voluntarily withdraw from the accreditation process with the Higher Learning Commission, effective Nov. 1.

The college has struggled for the past few years and has received advances in state share of instruction funding from the state three times. The U.S. Department of Education placed the college under Heightened Cash Monitoring 2 in August 2022, meaning that the college had to use its own resources to credit student accounts and wait for federal student aid reimbursements from the federal department. 

Mike Duffey, Ohio Department of Higher Education chancellor, on March 8 declared Eastern Gateway to be in fiscal watch, citing its advance of state subsidy, failure to make any payments to vendors, its heightened cash monitoring status with the U.S. Department of Education and its projected deficit.

The letter sent to faculty lists financial constraints as the reason for the nonrenewals.

“We want to express our sincere appreciation for your contributions to the College during your time here,” it reads. “Your dedication and hard work have been invaluable, and we are grateful for the impact you have had on our students and community.”

The letter, which came from the college human resources department, says the college wants to ensure a smooth transition.

“Please know this will not forbid you to look for other employment,” it reads. “We understand that this news may bring about various emotions and uncertainties. Please know that we are here to support you during this transition period.”

Corrin said he expects some faculty may be hired to work at Youngstown State University. YSU has been conducting online meetings with Eastern Gateway students who may be interested in transferring. The YSU Academic Senate earlier this month approved the addition of 32 associate degree and certificate programs.

YSU also plans to open a campus in Steubenville, although it hasn’t announced a location.

Many of the struggles at Eastern Gateway can be traced to its free college benefit program. That program offered free college to union members through a contract with an outside provider, Student Resource Center. Enrollment ballooned to more than 40,000 students from across the country, most of whom attended online classes. Enrollment before the program was about 4,000.

In November 2021, the Higher Learning Commission, an accrediting body, placed the college on probation, citing a litany of issues.

In 2022, U.S. DOE ordered the college to end the free college program, saying Eastern Gateway was charging students who received Pell grants more than those who didn’t. The college sued the department, and through an August 2023 settlement, the free college program ended. Enrollment this semester is down more than 63% compared with a year ago.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.