Eastern Gateway Community College is temporarily suspending their Free College Benefit program after the Department of Education postponed a meeting with EGCC to discuss issues with the program.

Earlier this month, the D.O.E. identified concerns about Eastern Gateway's Free College Benefit program as part of a federal financial aid program review.

Students who meet low-income requirements are typically awarded Pell Grants to help pay for college. The Department of Education claims EGCC has been providing students who don't qualify for Pell Grants with the same benefits, regardless of their income.

After conducting a review, the D.O.E wrote "EGCC is merely waiving/writing off all non-Pell/state grant charges on student accounts, and falsely making it appear that the students are being funded by outside entities."

A press release from EGCC on June 20th says they believe the program is fully compliant with federal law, but they will follow the direction of the Department of Education until the issues are resolved.

The D.O.E. postponed a meeting to resolve the issues, requesting more time to determine how to best respond to questions that Eastern Gateway sent them earlier Wednesday in preparation for the meeting.

In the meantime, EGCC has temporarily suspended the Free College Benefit program for the Fall 2022 semester out of an abundance of caution.

“We understand that this is a frustrating change of direction for our students, our staff, and the EGCC community," said EGCC President Michael Geoghegan. "However, we know with certainty that this path will align with the most conservative elements of guidance received to date from D.O.E., and therefore it will avoid further scrutiny or potential misinterpretation while DOE works to provide us with answers."

"This serves to preserve the integrity of the College and leave zero doubt as to whether we are being compliant with D.O.E.’s current directives,” Geoghegan explained.

In a statement, EGCC provided guidance for students who participate in the free college program:

"EGCC students who have enrolled for Fall 2022 courses on or before July 18, 2022, will be able to attend in the Fall and use Title IV aid and/or the Free College Benefit. Students who enrolled for Fall 2022 courses on or after July 19, 2022, at this time are not eligible for the Free College Benefit and may not utilize Title IV aid. The college is diligently working on an alternative funding plan for these students before the Fall start."  

The statement says EGCC will continue to work with the D.O.E. regarding changes to the Free College Benefit Program, and will use any guidance provided to move forward with the program as soon as possible.