- Eastern Gateway Community College will in fact offer a free college program this fall, it said less than a week after closing enrollment in the initiative and telling students they shouldn't plan to receive funding from federal Pell Grants because of U.S. Department of Education concerns.
- The public institution in Ohio learned Monday afternoon it will be able to disburse Pell funding and run the Free College Benefit program, it said in a news release.
- Eastern Gateway's president, Michael Geoghegan, is still scheduled to meet with Ed Department officials Wednesday to discuss recent allegations that the free college program violates federal law by charging students who receive Title IV federal financial aid funding more than students who do not.
Eastern Gateway operates two campuses, in Steubenville and Youngstown. It has positioned the Free College Benefit program as a last-dollar initiative made possible through partnerships with local and national unions. Last-dollar programs draw from other sources of available funding before contributing money toward students' education.
Last week, the Ed Department said the college must stop offering the program. It said Pell Grants — which go to students with high financial need — were being credited to students' bills. Then remaining charges were recorded as paid for by scholarships. The college also zeroed out bills for students who were not receiving Pell funding.
But the Ed Department said it found little scholarship funding coming from outside entities.
"EGCC is merely waiving/writing off all non-Pell/state grant charges on student accounts, and falsely making it appear that the students are being funded by outside entities," the Ed Department said in a July 18 letter. "Essentially, under this program, students who receive Pell funding are being charged for the program, but students not receiving Pell are not."
Eastern Gateway responded with its own letter, saying the Ed Department's stance suggested institution-funded scholarships are not allowed. The community college argued laws and regulations do not require scholarships to be funded by public money instead of institutional dollars.
"EGCC’s program does not charge a higher amount for Pell recipient students," said the college's letter, signed by Geoghegan, the president. "The tuition and fees are the same for both populations, and EGCC’s program simply ensures that all students can attend college free of charge, regardless of their Pell eligibility."
Eastern Gateway's fall classes start Aug. 15. Over 75,000 students have enrolled under the free college program since 2015, the college has said.
The Ed Department did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. Eastern Gateway promised additional updates after Wednesday's meeting.