By Denise Dick
Eastern Gateway Community College’s Gateway Grant enabled Gia Herrera of Canfield and Tim Spalding of North Jackson to attend their first two years of college tuition-free.
Without it, Spalding, who is majoring in business management, says he would have either bitten the bullet and attended Youngstown State University, taking on student loans; or entered an apprenticeship program as an electrician or sheet metal worker.
Herrera, who is majoring in interactive and interactive digital media, struggled through elementary and high school, and likely would have taken a year off of school if she hadn’t learned about the Gateway Grant.
“I say I would have gone back, but a lot of people don’t,” Herrera said.
To qualify for the Gateway Grant, students must begin attending Eastern Gateway full time by the fall after graduating from a high school in Mahoning, Trumbull or Columbiana county, apply for the Pell Grant and use any awarded funds before the Gateway Grant is applied.
Students must have a minimum 2.5 grade-point average upon high-school graduation.
The grant is good for four semesters of full-time attendance over two years. It funds only tuition.
Laura Meeks, Eastern Gateway president, said at a news conference Monday morning that the grant allows students to leave the college debt-free. They then may choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
Both Spalding and Herrera say they’ll likely continue their studies at YSU after completing their associate degrees at Eastern Gateway.
The grant is not competitive and there’s no limit to the number available. It’s a grant, not a loan, and doesn’t have to be repaid.
“I think this is one of the most phenomenal programs we have to offer in the Mahoning Valley,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-13th. There’s no excuse not to take advantage of the grant, he said.
The grant takes down the financial barriers between students and higher education, Ryan said. It’s up to students to take down their fears.
Ann Koon, Eastern Gateway spokeswoman, said 23 Mahoning Valley high school graduates received the grant last year amounting to more than $55,000.
She urged 2013 graduates to apply soon as classes begin Aug. 26 at the Valley Center in downtown Youngstown, at the Warren Center and at other sites.
Dante Zambrini, interim Eastern Gateway Mahoning Valley vice president, said the college is affordable, accessible and credit hours are transferable.
Spalding, a 2012 graduate of Jackson-Milton High School, said he wanted to pursue a degree because it’s something he would always have.
“Education is something that no one can take from you,” he said. “You can always lose a job or lose money, but you’re always going to have your education.”