Journal Opinion: The ‘Pause’ at Eastern Gateway

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The establishment of Eastern Gateway Community College in the Mahoning Valley brought great promise. Now that promise appears to be going bust.

In 2009, Jefferson Community College in Steubenville expanded its service district to Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties and adopted the Eastern Gateway name. The college eventually took over a pair of buildings in downtown Youngstown where it offered classes for those seeking a low-cost associate degree and displaced workers looking for job training.

The college focused its workforce training on fields in demand in the region: health care, welding and machining, among others. Plus, Eastern Gateway provided opportunity for students for whom a four-year degree wasn’t the right option.

At a special college trustees meeting Feb. 21, trustees announced a “pause” – the college would accept no students beyond the spring 2024 semester. Other colleges are expected to ensure those enrolled at Eastern Gateway will be able to complete their degrees.

The last few years have been rocky for the college with former administrators charged with crimes, the Higher Learning Commission placing it on probation, money woes, personnel cuts, changes enacted by the U.S. Department of Education in how it received federal student aid reimbursements, cash advances through the state controlling board and an ongoing criminal investigation.

Much of that stems from the rapid growth in its unique free college benefit program.

Through a partnership with an outside provider, Eastern Gateway began offering free college to labor union members across the country who attended classes online. The college saw record enrollment – more than 40,000 students at its height, up from about 4,000 in an average year. The company, Student Resource Center, earned significant profits.

The free college program ended last year following a settlement with the U.S. Department of Education, which alleged that Eastern Gateway was charging students who received Pell grants more than those who didn’t. Enrollment plummeted.

We trust other colleges will step in to help students, at least in the short term. We are confident that a longer-term solution is in the works. Still, a void would remain if Eastern Gateway is forced to close.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.