Search executed at Ohio’s Eastern Gateway College over financial irregularities

Community College had offered online “free college” program until recently; two school administrators were indicted last summer on theft charges

Multiple law enforcement jurisdictions executed a search warrant Thursday related to an ongoing investigation at Eastern Gateway Community College near Steubenville, according to the Ohio Auditor’s Office.

Auditor Keith Faber said in a video released by the agency that the auditor’s office is investigating reports of “financial irregularities.”

The agency’s Special Investigation Unit went to the site along with Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s Computer Crimes Unit, the U.S. Secret Service, the Columbus Division of Police’s Digital Forensics Unit, and the Ohio Narcotics Intelligence Center.

The agency said the January 2024 action was separate from the August 2023 indictments of former college administrators, when former Eastern Gateway president Jimmie Bruce and former college vice president and chief of staff James Miller were accused of stealing thousands of dollars while in office and charged with multiple felonies.

But Faber also said in the video the investigation is “looking into matters that both have already been charged and are being prosecuted.”

The agency said it wouldn’t be giving further comment because it is an open investigation.

Eastern Gateway officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.

This is not the first — or even the second — time that Eastern Gateway has come under scrutiny.

Eastern Gateway was one of several colleges in the country that offered the free college program through the Career Plus program.

Career Plus was a collaboration with several labor unions, including the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The program allowed students who were either union employees or the children of union employees to combine the aid students can qualify for by filling out the FAFSA with union money to pay the full cost of tuition.

In 2022, the U.S. Department of Education sent the college a cease-and-desist order to stop offering a free college program. The U.S. Department of Education said in the letter that the way the program was set up unlawfully charged students with Pell Grants more than students without Pell Grants. In response, Eastern Gateway sued, saying the way the U.S. Department of Education had pushed the college to shut down the program was unlawful.

On July 31, 2023, Eastern Gateway President Michael Geoghegan announced that after negotiations with the U.S. Department of Education, the college would “no longer offer a last dollar scholarship (Free College Benefit program) to new students.” The agreement, part of settlement negotiations with USDOE, canceled the “free college benefit” for all students after fall semester 2023.

Central State University in Greene County terminated its partnership with the Student Resource Center, which ran the free college program, in September 2022, and no longer offers the program.

Eastern Gateway also came under scrutiny from the Higher Learning Commission, which accredits most of Ohio’s colleges and universities. The HLC placed Eastern Gateway on probation in November 2021, in part because the quality of the free college programs came under scrutiny. As of November 2023, Eastern Gateway was still on probation.

About the Author