$2.5M acquired for Eastern Gateway start-up

By Harold Gwin

The college doesn’t officially exist yet, but some general-education courses are already being offered.

YOUNGSTOWN — The state may not have any money in its biennial budget plan to launch Eastern Gateway Community College this fall, but that hasn’t stopped the school’s organizers from finding other revenue sources.

Laura Meeks, president of Jefferson Community College and volunteer assistant to Ohio’s chancellor of higher education on the community college project, said more than $2.5 million in grant funds has been secured.

That includes a $1.9 million federal Department of Labor Community-Based Job Training Grant announced in March and a $750,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Meeks said.

The federal money is designed to improve the ability of community colleges to provide their regions’ workers with skills needed to enter growing industries.

The Gates Foundation funding, spread over three years, will help fund general- education courses such as math and English to help people become “college-ready” faster, Meeks said.

There also will be some state funds available to help the new college work with the local career centers, she said.

Officially, Eastern Gateway Community College doesn’t exist yet, she said, explaining that the institution will be created in the state budget bill that is supposed to be passed into law by Wednesday.

Jefferson Community College in Steubenville will cease to exist under its own name at that point and become a part of Eastern Gateway, which will also serve Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties. The new college won’t have its own campus but will use educational facilities across the four-county region.

Eric D. Fingerhut, Ohio’s chancellor of higher education, has said Eastern Gateway’s first educational offering will be an accelerated LPN-RN nursing program.

Jefferson will provide the general-education courses, and the nursing courses will be provided through a program operated by Lorain County Community College, using the facilities of career centers. The first classes will be at Mahoning County Career and Technical Center and Trumbull Career and Technical Center, with courses coming later at Columbiana County Career and Technical Center and Choffin Career and Technical Center in Youngstown.

Youngstown State University, which launched the effort to develop a community college for the region three years ago, will offer its four-year nursing degree as a direct educational pathway from the LPN program at the community college.

“We’re trying to work with other colleges, too,” Meeks said, explaining that the goal is not to duplicate programming already in existence but to use others’ programs and strengths to benefit students in their home communities.

Although there won’t be a central campus, the new community college will have a headquarters, Meeks said, noting that a facilities search is under way along the Mahoning/Trumbull County line.

Central offices and perhaps some classrooms will be located there, she said.

The community college may not exist yet, but some general-education courses tied to the LPN-RN program started last week at MCCTC and TCTC, according to Meeks.

The offerings weren’t openly advertised but were presented to LPNs through a direct mailing, she said, adding that 50 signed up for the classes that will lead to an associate degree in nursing.

Those are courses in English and algebra, she said, adding that nursing courses are slated to begin in January at those same two locations.

Tuition for Eastern Gateway courses has been set at $96 per credit hour, among the lowest college rates in the state, Meeks said. YSU’s rate per credit hour is $270, according to a campus spokesman.

The plan is to offer courses in three formats: traditional classroom settings at the career centers, online, and by interactive-distance learning, which allows the instructor to directly interact with the student.

Within the first year, degree programs including welding, industrial-information technology and respiratory therapy also will be offered, Meeks said.

General-education courses will be offered again starting Aug. 24.

People can call (800) 68-COLLEGE now for program and enrollment information, and a Web site will be available as soon as the state budget passes, Meeks said.

There are also plans to have a contact person at each of the career centers one day a week once Eastern Gateway is officially established, she said.