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Closing EGCC Isn’t The Right Response

There are so many things that don’t make sense about the Eastern Gateway Community College situation. You can review the decisions of the administration and the Board as much as you want. You won’t find any answers that explain what happened. We’re led to believe that there are ongoing criminal investigations. They make headlines, but they won’t change the outcome for EGCC, whose fate was likely sealed in 2022.

Here’s the thing that makes the absolute least amount of sense to me: why shut down the college? The people of Jefferson County, the State of Ohio, the federal government, and the EGCC students, faculty and staff have all invested tens of millions of dollars into EGCC over a period of decades. Jefferson County has probably gotten a huge economic benefit in return.

So, why shut it down? The college is here. It’s been built. It has the space, equipment, personnel, and infrastructure to function as intended.

The two things that prevent it from operating effectively are the lack of competent administration and oversight, and near absence of money, which is a direct result of the lack of competent administration and oversight. Its accreditation problems also trace back to poor administration.

EGCC’s two(ish) big problems -its administration and its oversight body – are both fixable. But – for reasons that are not clear to me – the Board of Trustees is willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If the Trustees aren’t interested in fixing their own mistakes – and the mistakes of their predecessors – then maybe they weren’t the right people for the job to begin with.

Admittedly, the timing isn’t great. With excess capacity in higher education right now, it might seem expedient for the state to divest itself of a costly higher education institution.

Figure out how to save EGCC, not bury it

Instead, put EGCC into a receivership. Yes, that means the college administration will give up its financial agency for a period of time, but that’s probably exactly what it needs. Dissolve the existing Board of Trustees and temporarily replace it with a crisis team that is invested and has the requisite experience to lead the institution out of this mess.

It will likely take a lawyer or two; an accountant or two; a liaison from the Jefferson County government; a teacher or two with the academic chops to address the HLC’s concerns; someone who understands the federal financial aid system well enough to parse the Department of Ed’s demands; some state funding, and some process improvement consultants who can build checks and balances to ensure that this NEVER happens again.

But it doesn’t make any sense to walk away from the tens of millions of dollars (maybe more?) that have been poured into EGCC over the years. And allowing Youngstown State University to pick the bones of EGCC seems a little ghoulish, given that YSU graduates only about 4 out of every 10 students and had a student loan cohort default rate of about 20% prior to the pandemic.

Don’t get rid of EGCC. Get rid of the ineffectual leadership and the lax oversight that combined to create this dumpster fire.

Photo Credit: Steve Jurvetson, via Flickr