Early College remains priority

By Harold Gwin

Eastern Gateway’s leader says the community college is ‘absolutely ready’ to fill the void for the city students.

YOUNGSTOWN — The president of the city board of education says Youngstown Early College will continue, despite Youngstown State University’s decision to end its participation in the program.

“There is going to be an early-college program next year. This is an absolute priority of this board of education,” Anthony Catale said Friday, a day after the YSU trustees voted to end the university’s affiliation effective June 30.

Just where it will be located next year and who will partner with the city schools to make that happen have yet to be determined, Catale said.

YEC is a joint project created by the city school district and YSU to allow selected city high school students with demonstrated academic potential to attend classes on the YSU campus, earning college credits while completing their high school education. Students who would be the first in their family to attend college have been a priority. The school opened in fall 2004 and has 250 students.

The newly formed Eastern Gateway Community College has expressed an interest in getting involved in the program, and Friday, EGCC President Laura Meeks made a commitment.

She said she has assured YSU President David C. Sweet and Youngstown schools Superintendent Wendy Webb that Eastern Gateway “is absolutely ready to provide early college to the Youngstown area with the support of the community.”

The logistics of any arrangements will have to be worked out, but Eastern Gateway is stepping forward out of concern for the ability of the students at YEC to continue their education, said Ann Koon, EGCC spokeswoman.

The YSU trustees’ vote was unexpected as action on the issue wasn’t listed on the agenda of the Academic and Student Affairs Committee meeting during which the vote was taken.

“I’m both surprised and truly disappointed,” Catale said.

He said it was his understanding that the trustees and the school board were going to sit down and cost out the program, mapping out a feasible plan that included long-term financial arrangements.

The city school district already picks up the cost of teachers’ providing high school courses as well as the materials the students need. YSU was providing a place for the school in Fedor Hall.

The YEC students rack up college-tuition costs of more than $600,000 a year, and the original five-year partnership arrangement called for YSU to pick up 49 percent of the tuition with the city schools covering 51 percent.

However, neither party had to pay any tuition costs until this year because the state allocated funds to cover it.

But Ohio dropped early-college funding from its biennial budget passed last summer, leaving YSU and the city schools to split a $685,000 tuition bill.

The trustees tapped some unused scholarship reserves to cover its $336,000 share, and the school district found some unused grant funds to pay its $349,000 portion.

The school district and the university were in the process of negotiating a new five-year agreement, and the YSU administration was presenting terms of that proposed pact to the Academic and Student Affairs Committee on Friday when it became clear the majority of the board was unhappy with the financial arrangements being proposed.

Only one board member, Millicent Counts, spoke on behalf of keeping the partnership alive, calling it a “moral obligation.”

Sweet, a longtime supporter of the YEC project, also spoke on behalf of the partnership, saying it would be detrimental to the students to cut off the program before other arrangements can be made.

Trustee Harry Meshel said the program puts a financial burden on the university that it can’t afford right now in light of dwindling state financial support across the board, not just for early-college programs.

Sweet took exception to that argument, pointing out that YSU gets some $330,000 a year in State Share of Instruction subsidy for the YEC students taking college courses. And, the majority of YEC’s graduates are enrolling in YSU after high school graduation. The university benefits from their tuition payments only at that point, he said.

Some of the trustees, including Scott Schulick, board president, expressed concerns about the long-term viability of the program, pointing out that the new five-year plan for its operation didn’t offer sound financial support. This was a very difficult decision to make, he said.

Others suggested YSU resources might be better spent concentrating on programs and services for the university’s regular students, and priorities need to be established.

When pressed for some direction by the administration, the trustees voted to sever ties with YEC as of June 30, the end of this fiscal year.

Sweet said the board of trustees sets the policy for the university, and he follows its directives. Nevertheless, he said he was disappointed by the decision to end YSU’s affiliation and said he will work to assure that a transition to a new partner for the city school district occurs as smoothly and quickly as possible.

Mayor Jay Williams said the proposal worked out between the city school district and YSU actually showed a net financial gain for the university based on state aid and scholarships, and he questioned the decision to scrap it.

This program meets the mission of an urban research university, he said, suggesting that research universities are rushing to create early-college programs such as the one being abandoned here.

Williams said some community members plan to organize protests against the trustees’ decision and attempt to persuade them to change their minds.

The suddenness of the decision left YEC students and their parents confused and upset.

“Parents are very frustrated. We hate that we don’t know anything,” said Talisha Campbell, who has a son who is a junior at YEC.

Students learned of the trustee vote Friday morning and began calling their parents saying they might not have an early-college program next year, she said.

“This is our kids’ future,” Campbell said, expressing concern about the uncertainty of the program’s longevity. “Something has to be definite in this chaos,” she said.

Catale said he and Webb were at Fedor Hall on Friday morning to speak with students and addressed several classes, urging the students to stay focused and pledging their commitment to an early-college program. No one can dispute that this is a highly performing academic program, Catale said. (It is Youngstown’s only school rated as academically excellent by the state.)

“We’re going to work through this,” he vowed.


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