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HLC puts EGCC on probation

STEUBENVILLE — The Higher Learning Commission put Eastern Gateway Community College on probationary status Tuesday, a decision President Mike Geoghegan said is disappointing but not unexpected.

The change does not affect the college’s accreditation, school officials noted. It also does not affect student financial aid, a student’s ability to transfer to other institutions or degrees.

While student life will continue on as usual, behind the scenes Geoghegan said the college will be making operational changes — in many cases, fine-tuning existing processes — to satisfy the commission’s concerns.

In a news release announcing the HLC action, college officials had said the accreditation agency’s “core concerns centered on assessment, data collection and analysis, HR record keeping, and ensuring that we can document the great work we already do.”

Geoghegan said faculty had already been briefed and “they’re 100 percent behind us, there are no issues there.”

“Our faculty-administration (relationship) is very good,” he said. “Obviously, we’re not in any sort of financial straits — a lot of the things you normally see in probation cases are not here. Really, it’s more about the kind of processes in place. We’ve been growing exponentially, it’s not what they’re used to — we’re an anomaly, an outlier for HLC. They’re used to going into status quo organizations.”

Geoghegan took over as interim president in January 2020 after his predecessor, Jimmie Bruce, was terminated by the board of trustees for what it had termed “dereliction of duty and inappropriate management.” At the time, board Chairman James Gasior had cited a “lack of leadership, particularly over the last five months” and said Bruce had stopped responding to requests for information and wasn’t attending staff meetings.

Prior to Bruce’s ouster faculty and staff had taken a no confidence vote and presented a list of what they felt were “grieve-worthy” concerns to the board.

Geoghegan said the commission’s findings are fallout from the tumult of the transition: HLC’s mid-cycle review process included the assurance argument, a virtual onsite visit in which the institution must demonstrate how it meets HLC’s criteria for accreditation, and the peer review team; the institutional actions Ccouncil report and meeting in August; and a HLC board of trustees meeting last week.

“We were way behind the eight ball,” he said. “At the time we submitted our assurance argument, that should have been something that was ongoing for the last 3.5 years, all the data, all the evidence (collected), but it just wasn’t there. We had to start getting it all together.”

He said the leadership team has stabilized and they’re actively addressing HLC’s core concerns, beginning with his hiring of a vice president of institutional effectiveness who has established a task force, a collaboration between the administration and faculty, “so all the evidence they claim they didn’t have, we’ll be sitting up digital storage areas so next time (when they ask for it) it’s in the can, we can edit it and it’s ready to go.”

“A lot of the things we were doing may not have been documented to the satisfaction of HLC but they were processes, we were doing them,” Geoghegan said. “But now all that will be documented and digitized. They just want to see you have this document in this file.

“You can have the best statistics of students getting employed, getting started in their careers, going on to graduate from four-year universities or getting their master’s, but it’s not in their criterion for accreditation. They’re a little too focused on the process.”

Geoghegan pointed out when he joined EGCC in 2017 enrollment stood at around 8,300.

“We’re six times larger right now, with about 48,000 (students),” he said. “That’s a lot of growth, and, really, our student success metrics are very, very strong as far as course completions and student retention. One very good external indicator is how we’ve been doing with our state subsidy … we grew 27.4 percent in state aid, and that’s (due to a) combination of enrollment and student success.”

He also noted the administrations relationship with faculty and staff “is probably the strongest it’s been in quite a while.”

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