Eastern Gateway to Begin Dissolution in June

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio – Eastern Gateway Community College will begin the process to dissolve June 30 absent an infusion of sufficient funds by May 31.

College trustees approved a resolution to that effect Wednesday afternoon. It follows a decision last month to pause enrollment at the community college, based in Steubenville with a campus in downtown Youngstown, after spring semester.

Trustees also voted to voluntarily resign from Higher Learning Commission accreditation. The college has been on probation with the HLC since November 2021. HLC extended probation until November 2024, but it cannot extend it beyond that.

James Gasior, trustees chairman, said the college doesn’t have the finances or the capacity to continue with the HLC process. 

“The college retains accreditation until the effective date of the resignation,” which is Nov. 1, Gasior said. 

That will allow students to graduate this spring from an accredited institution, he said.

On March 8, the Ohio Department of Higher Education declared Eastern Gateway on fiscal watch. As part of that directive, the college must adopt a financial recovery plan within 90 days.

The declaration, signed by ODHE Chancellor Michael Duffey, cites ongoing financial problems at the college. It also points to a projected negative operating fund balance for fiscal year 2024.

College trustees also voted Wednesday to begin negotiations with Youngstown State University on “various matters” that weren’t listed during the meeting. The board also voted to issue a request for proposals to sell the Pugliese Center, the main building on the Steubenville campus.

YSU already earned approval from the HLC for a campus in Jefferson County although it hasn’t announced its location.

James Corrin, president of the Eastern Gateway Community College Education Association, which represents faculty, is resigned to the fate of the college.

“I think the anger has surpassed,” he said. “The reality has set in that Eastern Gateway will no longer be here. I think people are just sad because it could have been prevented.”

If the college would have brought in people adept at addressing financial aid problems two years ago, when the U.S. Department of Education placed Eastern Gateway on heightened cash monitoring 2, the problems could have been fixed, Corrin said.

Earlier this month, the YSU Academic Senate approved adding 32 associate and certificate programs targeting Eastern Gateway students’ transition to YSU. Twenty additional programs are expected to be reviewed by the academic senate at a future meeting.

Since the announcement of the Eastern Gateway pause, YSU and other community colleges in Ohio have been announcing their plans to help stranded Eastern Gateway students enroll.

Corrin believes many Eastern Gateway employees in Jefferson County have a good chance of getting hired by YSU to work at its Steubenville campus.

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

That program offered free college through a contract with an outside provider, Student Resource Center. Enrollment grew 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, the U.S. Department of Education placed Eastern Gateway on Heightened Cash Monitoring 2, meaning 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, U.S. DOE ordered the college to end the free college program, charging 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 with a year ago.

Eastern Gateway awaits a final report from a U.S. DOE review.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.