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HLC extends EGCC’s Accreditation Review

The Higher Learning Commission informed Eastern Gateway Community College that it has extended the school’s probationary status. HLC initially placed the school on probation two years ago following a series of missteps. Should EGCC fail to adequately address HLC’s concerns, the accrediting agency could yank the school’s accreditation.

In a letter dated November 2, the HLC listed a host of issues that remain unaddressed. Following receipt of the letter, EGCC’s faculty held a vote of no confidence in the school’s top administrators and its Board of Trustees. While EGCC states that “very few” issues remain unresolved, the HLC’s letter contains seven pages of concerns over substantive issues related to the school’s operations.

One of the HLC’s major concerns is EGCC’s current budget, which the agency described as “unrealistic.” A related concern is what HLC terms the school’s resource base. Additionally, the school falls short in its “Title IV Responsibilities.” Title IV is the federal title that provides financial aid for higher education students. That concern reflects the ongoing federal investigation into the school’s financial aid practices.

Earlier this year, EGCC partially settled a dispute with the US Department of Education over the school’s “Free College Benefit” program. The school had partnered with the AFSCME labor union to provide “free” college education to its membership. According to Department of Education claims, the school used Pell Grant funds almost exclusively to pay for courses from both Pell-eligible and Pell-ineligible students. In its complaint, the Department of Education alleged that the school simply wiped out the cost of attendance for students who did not qualify for Pell Grants.

That prompted the Department of Education to order EGCC to stop offering the program. EGCC filed a lawsuit seeking relief from the Department’s rulings, but eventually agreed to shut down the Free College Benefit program.

Losing accreditation will only hurt the local residents

The impact of the settlement was near-immediate. EGCC’s enrollment plunged by about two-thirds following the program’s closure. Additionally, the steep decline in enrollment destabilized the school’s budget. Most of EGCC’s students are out-of state residents, which limits the amount of financial support the school receives from the State of Ohio.

The HLC’s concerns go beyond the school’s finances. In its letter – which was signed by HLC president Barbara Gellman-Danley – the HLC plans a campus visit in May 2024 to evaluate the school’s remaining areas of concern. Evaluators expect to render a final decision on the school’s accreditation no later than November 2024.
According to the letter, the HLC remains concerned that EGCC’s “lack of preparation with respect to its national footprint results in an inequitable duality of the local and national service areas.” Additionally, EGCC “has not engaged in a pre-planned, community needs-based assessment of valued credentials for intended stakeholders.”

In other words, EGCC is not sufficiently serving the needs of its local population. Its failure to engage and serve its local residents, and its focus on out-of-district students may cost the school its accreditation. So, a school that decided to serve everyone might end up serving no one. And those 30,000 students who dropped out can go to some other school to attend classes online. But where will the local residents of Steubenville and Youngstown go when their community college closes?

This is what happens when you give a community resource away to non-members.

Photo Credit: Ron Cogswell, via Flickr