Mon., 12:23pm: Eastern Gateway president talks about growth

STEUBENVILLE – Laura Meeks, president of Eastern Gateway Community College, discussed the college’s progress and its future during the Friday luncheon meeting of the city Rotary Club at the YWCA.

Meeks told Rotarians the college was experiencing unprecedented growth since consolidating with other college branches in Ohio to become the current Eastern Gateway.

“The 2014 class is our biggest graduating class in our history with 359 students,” said Meeks, adding graduation will be May 17 at the main campus. “Eastern Gateway Community College is the fastest-growing college in Ohio, and we’re no longer Ohio’s smallest community college.”Meeks said the college also had the largest enrollment in its history, with more than 3,000 students enrolled throughout its branches. She added while many colleges in Ohio and the nation are experiencing declining student population, EGCC was doing well because of an increase in online students, dual credit courses offered in high schools and expansion of college services into Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

She added the Valley Center location in Youngstown was the reason for most of the college’s growth, and, overall, the college has grown by 42 percent since 2008. Meeks did acknowledge the Jefferson County Campus was experiencing a decline, but “we were expecting that. Our area is growing older.”

Meeks also discussed how funding for the college was now based on the number of students who succeed.

“Ohio is the only state funding community colleges by (percentage) outcomes,” Meeks said.

Funding is based on how many students succeed in programs, fall-to-fall student retention and completion of degrees or certificates.

“Our (fall-to-fall) retention isn’t that high because many of our students transfer after one year,” Meeks said.

She also said up to 85 percent of students could be considered low income, and the school holds its own compared to other community colleges in the state.

Meeks said the college also is an employer, hiring 36 full-time and 96 part-time employees since 2008.

“We now have 100 full-time employees at the Jefferson County Campus,” she said, adding other campuses also have seen hiring. “We do hire people.”

Graduating area seniors with a C-plus average their last two years of high school are eligible for two years of free tuition at the college through its Horizon grant program, Meeks continued.

“We’re the only college that does this,” said Meeks, adding the average student debt for attaining a bachelor’s degree in the country was $26,500. “Many of our students transfer to four-year colleges, but most get jobs after leaving EGCC.”

She added the college’s $3,800 annual tuition was the fourth lowest in the state.

Meeks also discussed the college’s partnership with Southern State Community College for a truck driving certification was one way the college was doing things out of the box to help students get jobs.

“We have many students who go here and get great jobs,” Meeks concluded.