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OH Community College Halts Registration

If you thought there was going to be a happy ending for the Eastern Gateway Community College saga, you’re about to be disappointed. EGCC is an Ohio community college that made what can only be described as an unfortunate alliance with AFSCME to provide a “free college benefit” to its members.

Improbably, EGCC’s enrollment swelled over the past few years even as enrollment at other community colleges steadily declined. The school welcomed tens of thousands of online students – primarily AFSCME members – from around the United States. EGCC’s online program manager (OPM) had uncomfortably close ties to the union and a plan to fund the “free college” program through the federal Pell Grant program.

In the process, EGCC managed to lose most of its state funding and attracted negative attention from the US Department of Education, the Higher Learning Commission, and at least a half-dozen law enforcement agencies. That precipitated several key leadership changes at EGCC, but the current and previous president both served as EGCC’s Chief Financial Officer before taking over the President’s Office. That raised additional concerns about the school’s academic well-being.

Sanctions levied by the US Department of Education severely restricted the school’s cash flow. Last semester, EGCC had to ask the State of Ohio for a cash infusion worth millions that would ensure the school could make payroll.

Today, EGCC announced that it would “pause” registration for upcoming semesters to give itself an opportunity to figure out how to solve its financial problems. The school also recommended that students who have not yet finished their studies should seriously consider transferring to other local institutions.

Community college serves as a warning to others

“Cash strapped with its accreditation hanging in the balance and out of options” is the best way to describe EGCC’s precarious position. And it doesn’t look like it will get any better anytime soon. The school also faces at least the possibility of losing a multi-million dollar lawsuit filed against it by the OPM that led EGCC down this ill-advised path in the first place.

And how did this happen? By chasing the illusory pot of cash that came along with catering to online students. At the moment, EGCC can’t even serve the few local students who are still enrolled there, much less the tens of thousands of online students it literally bet the house on.

Describing EGCC as a cautionary tale simply doesn’t do this situation justice. A publicly funded community college is on the brink of collapse due to the reckless decisions its administrators (who are long gone) made. The students, staff, and faculty at EGCC will pay the price for this phenomenally dangerous strategy while the administrators who agreed to this disappear into the mist.

This goes well beyond caution. This is a bold red flag warning to Trustees and Executives of other community colleges who want to follow this path: DON’T.

Photo Credit: Fredrik Rubensson , via Flickr