Eastern Gateway Spring Enrollment Plummets 63%

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Enrollment at Eastern Gateway Community College plunged more than 63% from a year ago as it adapts to the end of its free college program.

But John Crooks, interim president, said it’s on target for what the college expected.

“I think we’re where we need to be,” he said.

Enrollment tumbled to 8,859 for the semester that started Jan. 8, from 24,472 a year ago.

Through the free college program, Eastern Gateway enrollment swelled to about 40,000, mostly from online students. Students enrolled from across the country.

This semester there are 6,166 students enrolled through the online program, down from 21,486 in spring 2024.

“Our footprint has declined, although we do have an impressively large footprint with students in California, New York and Florida,” Crooks said. “Over time, as we rightsize and with the end of the free college benefit program, it will be declining and we’ll become more regionally focused on Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.” 

Enrollment did increase in one area this semester.

College Credit Plus, a program that enables high school students to earn college credit, rose from 1,560 last spring to 1,765 for spring 2024.

“That’s very positive,” the interim president said.

He attributes that growth to promotion as well as the college offering the classes at the high schools and online. Eastern Gateway also uses open education resources, rather than textbooks, to cut down on student cost.

“Affordability is ingrained in the community college mission and vision,” Crooks said.

In-person enrollment is down at both the Youngstown and Steubenville campuses this spring. At the Youngstown campus, it fell to 483 students from 719 in spring 2023. At the main campus in Steubenville, it dropped to 445 from 709 last spring.

“I think we are adjusting as well as possible,” the interim president said, referring to the steep enrollment increase followed by the steep decrease. “We’re committed to students and to student success.” 

Crooks envisions Eastern Gateway becoming a stronger, more locally focused community college, homing in on Jefferson and Columbiana counties with the Steubenville campus and Mahoning and Trumbull counties with the Youngstown campus.

“We’ll have a strong focus on our workforce programs to help meet the needs of the communities we serve,” he said.

The college will also continue to offer CCP and robust transfer plans for students to move on to four-year institutions. Although some online programs will continue, the college will rely on them less. 

Facing Challenges

But Eastern Gateway still faces a host of challenges.

The U.S. Department of Education in August 2022 placed Eastern Gateway on Heightened Cash Monitoring 2, meaning the college must use its own resources to credit student accounts and wait for federal student aid reimbursements from the federal department. 

In 2022, U.S. DOE ordered the college to end the free college program, asserting that Eastern Gateway was charging students who received Pell grants more than those who didn’t.

The college sued the department, asking the court to stop enforcement of the order, saying it threatened the college’s ability to continue operations. Pell Grant funds amounted to nearly 75% of Eastern Gateway’s overall revenue at the time.

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

Eastern Gateway awaits a final report from a U.S. 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 the probation status continues.

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

Last month, state and federal agents searched offices at the Steubenville campus. 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. 

Crooks expects another request for an advance to the Controlling Board next month.


As part of receiving the advance in December, the college had to agree to a litany of requirements, 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 nonessential expenses and immediate enactment of internal expense controls.

That work is ongoing.

“Unfortunately, we’re probably looking at another reduction in force in the near term,” Crooks said.

That’s expected to be discussed at a special trustees meeting later this month. Whether to open for a summer session will be discussed at that time, too.

Last month, trustees approved cutting 28 college employees: 10 hourly support employees and 18 salaried staff. 

Last year, the college trimmed about $4 million in costs, with about 60% in personnel costs and the rest in operational expenses. The bulk of the personnel cuts came from Eastern Gateway’s adjunct faculty pool. 

About 50 full-time staff members were reduced in the 2023 round of cuts, with roughly 20 laid off and the remaining leaving for other employment. A handful of programs, including drafting, have been sunset, meaning they’ll end after current students complete them.

Lower enrolled programs are being reviewed as the college looks to cut nonessential expenses in the latest round of reductions.

At a trustees finance committee meeting Wednesday, the board talked about ways to reduce commencement costs, which totaled about $62,000 last year.

Crooks said the college is exploring options.

“I really believe it’s a pinnacle event to have a celebration of success,” he said. “We’re looking at what is the best venue and the most appropriate cost. The board is looking for that sweet spot – providing a great experience at an affordable cost.” 

While the college addresses its challenges, Crooks points to areas of success.

The health care and veterinary technician programs are accredited, and the college has an online literary journal for students that draws contributors from other institutions.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.