Eastern Gateway Community College to pause enrollment for all students after spring 2024

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Dive Brief:

  • Eastern Gateway Community College will suspend enrollment for all students after the spring semester amid ongoing financial distress.
  • In a Wednesday meeting, trustees for the beleaguered Ohio institution unanimously voted to pause enrollment for new and returning students. They described the change as temporary, but a faculty union leader said Thursday that employees have not been given a timeline for reinstating admissions.
  • The Ohio Department of Higher Education said the college’s financial distress was partly due to federal funding issues. For about a year and a half, the U.S. Department of Education has forced the college to pay for students’ federal financial aid out of pocket before seeking reimbursement.

Dive Insight:

In 2022, the Education Department alleged Eastern Gateway’s free college program illegally charged students with Pell Grants more than those without. 

Shortly afterward, it placed the college on Heightened Cash Monitoring 2 status, which requires institutions to front federal financial aid disbursements before seeking reimbursement from the Education Department. It also required the college to strike a teach-out agreement for students to transfer.

In turn, Eastern Gateway sued the department, alleging the agency overstepped its authority and didn’t give the college due process.

The community college ultimately ended the contended program in August during negotiations with the Education Department. College officials voluntarily dismissed their lawsuit as part of a tentative settlement. 

But the dispute with the Education Department has damaged the college’s finances. 

Due to the agency’s restrictions on Eastern Gateway’s federal financial aid access, board chair Jim Gasior expressed concern Wednesday that the college would be unable to continue operating if it began a new semester.

The pause is intended to give Eastern Gateway time to evaluate its options and resolve ongoing financial difficulties, the Ohio Department of Higher Education said in a news release.

In the meantime, Eastern Gateway is working with the Ohio Department of Higher Education and Youngstown State University to allow eligible students to enroll there or one of five nearby community colleges.

“We are pleased to ensure that affected students have the opportunity to register for classes at Youngstown State University,” Bill Johnson, president of Youngstown State, said in a statement. “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.” 

The university, located less than a mile from Eastern Gateway’s Youngstown campus, will work to honor the community college’s credits, and partner colleges are making “every effort” to provide tuition rates similar to those at Eastern Gateway, the education department said.

Students on track to graduate this semester will be able to do so, Ohio’s higher education department said.

“We have a plan to ensure students finish this semester as normal,” Gasior said in a Wednesday statement. “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.”

But college employees feel left in limbo after the board’s vote, according to Jim Corrin, president of the Eastern Gateway faculty union.

“There’s absolutely no plan of action behind this decision whatsoever,” Corrin said Thursday. 

College officials have left faculty out of the loop about the board’s intentions, Corrin said. Most faculty found out about the enrollment pause from local news sources rather than directly from the college, he added.

Eastern Gateway did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Almost 80% of the college’s students are not set to graduate this semester, and a faculty plea to the board to teach-out that group of students was denied, according to Corrin

“We have staff and faculty that have been here for 30-plus years. And they told me, ‘We’ve never seen anything like this,'” said Corrin, who has worked at the college for almost six years.

Faculty especially expressed concerns for healthcare students who would typically register for their clinicals and hands-on experience during the summer term.

“The fear is that a lot of our healthcare students might have to start all over,” Corrin said.

As of Thursday afternoon, Eastern Gateway’s website still promoted enrollment options for new and returning students.

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