Eastern Gateway ‘Pauses’ Enrollment and Registration

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — Eastern Gateway Community College is pausing enrollment and registration beyond its current semester.

The college board of trustees approved a resolution at a special meeting Wednesday to “pause” registration and enrollment for terms beyond the spring semester. This will provide an opportunity for Eastern Gateway Community College to evaluate options as a result of ongoing financial difficulties partly due to delayed federal funding.

“We have a plan to ensure students finish this semester as normal,” Jim Gasior, trustees chairman, said in a joint news release from Eastern Gateway, Youngstown State University and the Ohio Department of Higher Education. “And while we pause registration for the summer and beyond, Youngstown State University primarily and community colleges from throughout the region have offered to welcome our students, provide continuity and allow students to continue their programs of study as seamlessly as possible for their next semester.”

Youngstown State University recently began working with Eastern Gateway and the Ohio
Department of Higher Education on backup plans to ensure academically eligible students are
able to enroll at YSU or collaborating community colleges to complete their degrees. Examples
of similar programs at YSU and the community colleges include business, criminal justice,
information technology, mechanical engineering, social work, teacher education, dental hygiene, nursing and others.

The Ohio Department of Higher Education will coordinate with the Higher Learning Commission,
the U.S. Department of Education and other academic and regulatory bodies as necessary on
the implementation of the arrangement, with planned approval for YSU to offer in-person
classes in Steubenville for the benefit of Jefferson County, according to the news release. The Ohio Department of Higher Education has established a webpage and dedicated email address to answer questions posed by students, faculty and staff at www.highered.ohio.gov/egccinfo.

A spokesman for the Ohio Department of Higher Education said in an email Wednesday night that Eastern Gateway isn’t closing.

The college’s decision to pause enrollment and registration for terms beyond this semester “will provide an opportunity for Eastern Gateway to evaluate options to resolve ongoing financial difficulties,” Jeff Robinson said in the email.

At the Wednesday afternoon meeting, Gasior referred to a decision Jan. 12 by the U.S. Department of Education to place federal Pell Grant reimbursements to the college in escrow.

“Our concerns [are] revolving around cash flows and starting a new semester where it becomes difficult for the students to continue should we be unable to continue their education,” he said.

Trustees approved the resolution.

The president of the faculty union, the Eastern Gateway Community College Education Association, has questions.

“What does that mean?” James Corrin said. “At the end of spring semester, do the doors close? Is everybody on unemployment?”

He’s also concerned about students.

“I was surprised by the pause to a degree,” Corrin said. “Again, these are things we’re left in the dark about. The finances have always been an issue, but to find out it was this dire is very disappointing. Our staff and faculty have given their livelihoods to these students, the community and the institution. Some have been here for 30 years. It’s very sad and it’s very disappointing.”

YSU President Bill Johnson said in the news release that the university is honored to work with Eastern Gateway and the Ohio Department of Higher Education to support students.

“We are pleased to ensure that affected students have the opportunity to register for classes at Youngstown State University,” he said. “Additionally, we look forward to working with the Ohio Department of Higher Education and our regional community college partners to help those students who wish to continue on their academic pathway at one of Ohio’s two-year schools.”

Ohio community colleges that will welcome Eastern Gateway students include Stark State
College, Belmont College, Washington State College of Ohio, Cuyahoga Community College and
Hocking College. YSU will coordinate with the Ohio Department of Higher Education to advise
Eastern Gateway students on the best pathway to continue their education when that pathway
involves collaborating with community colleges.

All involved colleges will work to honor credits earned by students and help students through
the transfer process.

“Eastern Gateway has recently been subject to a process known as heightened cash monitoring
through the U.S. Department of Education,” the news release said. “This has delayed typical flows of federal funding to the college, creating diminished cash flow. Due to the uncertainty of funding beyond this semester, Eastern Gateway has made the prudent decision to pause student registration until this process is resolved.”

It says that students scheduled to graduate after spring semester won’t be affected by the pause.

“Currently enrolled students who aren’t scheduled to graduate at the end of the semester
will need to register for classes in the summer semester or fall semester through another
college,” the release said.

Eastern Gateway trustees also approved a resolution for a reduction in force at the Wednesday meeting, the second this year. Last month, 28 positions were eliminated.

“We need to look at essential versus nonessential personnel,” Interim President John Crooks said. “It is part of the recovery plan. We are looking at additional individuals in financial aid, information technology. The number of employees could extend up to plus 40 individuals and the savings could be up to approximately $2 million annually.”

Eastern Gateway has faced a series of problems over the last few years, much of it stemming from its free college benefit program.

Under that program, which the college offered through a contract with an outside provider, Student Resource Center, enrollment swelled 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 August 2022, Eastern Gateway was placed on Heightened Cash Monitoring 2, 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.

Also in 2022, the U.S. Department of Education ordered the college to end the free college program, stating that Eastern Gateway was charging students who received Pell grants more than those who didn’t.

The college sued the department, the two sides settled the case in August 2023 and the free college program ended.

Enrollment this semester is 8,859, down more than 63% compared to a year ago.

Eastern Gateway awaits a final report from a DOE review.

While it retains its accreditation, the college remains on probation from the Higher Learning Commission. HLC, the accrediting body for many higher learning institutions, placed Eastern Gateway on probation in November 2021. After a subsequent visit and review last year, HLC noted improvements, but kept the probation status in place. 

HLC is scheduled for another visit to the college this spring.

Last month state and federal agents searched offices at the Steubenville campus and earlier this month, the state auditor set up a dedicated email address seeking information about fraud, waste and abuse of public resources at the college.

In December, the Ohio Controlling Board approved a more than $6 million advance from the Ohio Department of Higher Education to Eastern Gateway to ensure adequate cash flow. In August 2023, the college also secured an advance through the controlling board.

As part of the December advance, the Ohio Department of Higher Education laid out a series of conditions for Eastern Gateway to meet including development of a financial recovery plan, a determination about the opening for the summer/fall semesters based on long-term financial viability, elimination of all non-essential expenses and immediate enactment of internal expense controls.

The college is set to return to the controlling board early next month.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.