STEUBENVILLE AND YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WTRF) — Eastern Gateway Community College announced that they have ceased the Free College Benefit program due to the U.S. Department of Education identifying concerns and putting the program under federal financial aid program review.

On July 18, the Division Chief of ED’s Federal Student Aid Division sent a letter to EGCC informing them to cease the Free College Benefit program and to not disburse Pell Grant funds to any new students until the program is redesigned.

According to EGCC President Michael Geoghegan, they believe that EGCC’s annual federal Title IV compliance audits during the past four years have not identified any concerns with the administration of the Free College Benefit Program.

Although EGCC firmly believes its Free College Benefit Program administration is fully compliant with Federal law, the college must follow the direction of ED until the issues are resolved.

“We vigorously disagree with their analysis and recommendations and have incorporated our objections and legal counsel’s analysis in a letter to the Secretary of the US Department of Education and his top deputies,” stated President Michael Geoghegan. “Until this issue is resolved, which we hope will be soon, we will continue to enroll students and notify new and prospective students of the situation, which we hope will be resolved quickly.”

“EGCC understands that Pell Grant funding is necessary for many students to access higher education,” said Senior Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer, Christina Wanat. “We understand that this may cause significant difficulty and hardship for our Free College students, and we are working hard to resolve this for them.”

Over 75,000 students participating in the Free College program have enrolled at EGCC since 2015, saving our students over 175 million dollars.

In a statement released, EGCC stated that it will continue to stay committed to the college mission of creating opportunities and changing lives.

Eastern Gateway is in the process of pursuing a resolution to this directive from ED and seeking assistance from congressional representatives.

For the time being, the college is notifying students who are enrolled in the Free College Benefit program at EGCC for the Fall 2022 semester or planning to enroll to not anticipate receiving any Pell Grant funding until the matter is resolved.

EGCC will continue to provide updates on the status of this matter as it becomes available to ensure students have all the information to make decisions regarding their pursuits in higher education.