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Jefferson County comes to terms with losing EGCC

The entire situation for Eastern Gateway Community College is sad, but perhaps one of the saddest things I have read about it comes from the Jefferson County commissioners. Jefferson County is home to Eastern Gateway Community College.

The county donated the land for the facility, but not without some strings attached. Those strings included continued county ownership of the land and a covenant that requires the land to be used for educational purposes in perpetuity. In other words, having a derelict campus sitting on the county’s land simply won’t do.

EGCC, formerly known as Jefferson Community College, collects a millage from Jefferson County residents. That millage, which currently generates about $1.4M, funds scholarships and grants for Jefferson County students. Even without EGCC, Jefferson County still has students who are eligible to share in the money, so the county will continue to collect the millage, at least until 2026, when voters in Jefferson County must decide whether to continue funding that assessment.

The saddest thing I have read, however, is a statement from former Jefferson County Commissioner Thomas Graham, who said:

“We need a community college, even if that means we start at the ground level and start it all over again.”

That raises the question of why Jefferson County residents, who had a perfectly functional community college, should need to start from scratch.

It’s clear that Eastern Gateway Community College cannot continue to operate as-is. It doesn’t have the funding and is in deep trouble with both the Department of Education and the Higher Learning Commission. Youngstown State University – apparently with the blessings of the Governor’s office and the Ohio Department of Higher Education – has set itself up to pick the bones of EGCC. Other northeast Ohio colleges will scrounge for what’s left.

Rebuilding after a fire: can Jefferson County start over?

Meanwhile, none of that helps Jefferson County, which is apparently going to be down one community college by June 1.

It’s outrageous that the EGCC Trustees allowed this to happen. It’s even more outrageous that the Trustees were selected by the Governor’s office. That kind of points the finger at Columbus, whose preferred solution so far seems to be hiding the body.

County residents didn’t elect the EGCC Board of Trustees. Over a period of years, EGCC’s Trustees allowed the school to be hijacked. The college executives explicitly warned the Trustees in writing of what was going to happen. When it was clear that the Free College Benefit program was unraveling quickly, the Governor’s Trustees lit a match and stepped back. Minimally, the Governor’s Office owes the residents of Jefferson County an explanation of why Mike DeWine’s handpicked trustees watched while Jefferson County’s house burned.

Who is going to hold the EGCC Trustees accountable? Moreover, who is going to hold Governor DeWine accountable for this disaster? And under these circumstances, why should Jefferson County residents shoulder the responsibility of rebuilding from scratch what they already built? Why didn’t the Governor’s Office place EGCC in receivership, rather than looking for the quickest way to dismantle the college?

If this can happen in Steubenville, OH, what’s to prevent something similar from happening to any community college whose trustees fail to prioritize and safeguard the interests of the community? Trustees are a community college’s only defense against failure. When the trustees don’t take their jobs seriously, six decades of investment can be lost in a matter of weeks.

Gone. Just like that.

Photo Credit: Carlos Ebert , via Flickr