Eastern Gateway Community College’s Valley Center in the heart of downtown Youngstown observed its first birthday last week in appropriately happy fashion — complete with colorful banners and a huge celebratory cake. To be sure, the community college’s amazing growth spurt over those short 12 months justifies jubilation, appreciation and commendation.
As such, we join others in cheering on Eastern Gateway, in appreciating its meteoric growth and in commending leaders of the Steubenville-based college and those in our own community who had long argued the lack of a community-college option in the Mahoning Valley stood as a glaring educational void.
Over the past 12 months, EGCC’s Valley Center on East Federal Street and its other centers in the Mahoning Valley have successfully filled that void. The proof is in the numbers. EGCC leads all 61 institutions of higher education in the Buckeye State in enrollment growth this fall. EGCC enrollment jumped 15 percent from 2012. Enrollment in its service district of Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties stands at 1,345, a whopping 48 percent increase from fall semester 2012.
Most of that growth stems from the opening of the Valley Center — which had migrated from one temporary site in Youngstown to another in recent years. It stands as an impressive, highly visible and active addition to the downtown landscape. After millions of dollars in extensive remodeling and renovations, a once dingy and largely empty downtown office building and garage has been transformed into a hubbub of excitement and state-of-the-art learning.
Students at the Valley Center have become active participants in Eastern Gateway’s more than 60 majors in such areas as business technologies, information technologies and health and public services. It has met the dual needs of providing two-year career-training programs and a springboard for a four-year university career at surprisingly affordable costs.
For example, one college credit hour at EGCC will cost a student $114 this semester. Compare that with the $265 credit-hour cost at Youngstown State University, and one easily can see that for the student not immediately seeking the highly liberal-arts bent of a four-year university, the savings are significant. Incentives offered by EGCC — including a tuition-free education for some qualified students — make its price tag even more appealing.
But don’t think for one minute that bargain-basement pricing results in low-quality learning. EGCC has been recognized for its high-quality education at affordable costs. For example, CNN Money last year rated Eastern Gateway among the top five community colleges in Ohio.
And that quality stands only to increase as the downtown campus nears completion. Two additional classrooms, a student commons area and an interactive video distance learning lab will be added in the next phase of construction.
None of this could have happened without years of strong community advocacy, most notably from the Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods. Over the past decade, ACTION has made establishment of a stable and credible community college in the Valley a top priority.
It even went as far as to gather more than 5,000 signatures advocating a Mahoning Valley EGCC location to the Ohio chancellor of higher education. Their work, that of other supporters and of EGCC leaders have made that dream a reality.
Judging by its overwhelmingly positive reception in our community, ACTION and its supporters acted correctly and responsibly. Today, we look forward to many more years of growth and contributions from EGCC to the Valley’s educational diversity and its economic development.