While a faith-based grass-roots organization is to be commended for pushing the idea of a central campus for the new Eastern Gateway Community College that has been created to serve the Mahoning Valley, the reality is that it will be many years before such a concept takes root.
Indeed, Ohio’s chancellor of higher education, Eric Fingerhut, the architect of the multi-county two-year institution, made it clear from the outset that a central campus was not a priority. In fact, Fingerhut told The Vindicator last year that it would be at least 10 years before a single location could be established. There are several reasons for this: First, the new college must build up its enrollment so tuition becomes a key source of revenue; second, the four counties that were brought together to form Eastern Gateway, Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana and Jefferson, would have to all agree on the location; third, Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties would have to pass a levy dedicated to the community college — just as the voters of Jefferson County did in 1966 when they approved a one-mill levy for what began as Jefferson County Technical Institute.
Today, Jefferson Community College provides associate degrees for transfer to four-year colleges and universities. While Jefferson is now part of Eastern Gateway, it has 1,880 students, while enrollment from Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties total about 170.
ACTION, the faith-based organization advocating a central campus, should focus its energies on helping the new institution increase enrollment and should figure out how to sell the idea of a community college levy in the tri-county area.
While the notion of a college without walls, which is what Eastern Gateway is by virtue of courses being offered in several locations in and out of the Mahoning Valley, may be difficult to comprehend at first blush, it does make sense.
As Gov. Ted Strickland and Chancellor Fingerhut have noted, the goal is to make higher education accessible to the largest number of people in the Valley as possible.
The community college, which has established a headquarters with some classroom space at Northside Medical Center on Gypsy Lane, opened this fall offering 180 classes leading to 11 associate degrees and six certificate programs.
One of the key educational offerings is an accelerated LPN-RN nursing program at the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center and the Trumbull Career and Technical Center.
At the recent formal opening of Eastern Gateway Community College attended by Strickland, Fingerhut, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, and others, Brenda Brady of North Bloomfield, a licensed practical nurse enrolled in the LPN-RN program, echoed the sentiments of many Valley residents when she said, “You’re giving me a legacy. You’re giving me a dream.”
That’s a pretty good start.