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‘Free’ Online Program at Central State Shutters Amid Controversy | Inside Higher Ed

Central State University in Ohio has stopped enrolling new students in Career Plus, a controversial free online college program for union members, The Dayton Daily News reported. The public university will also discontinue offerings for current students after the spring 2023 semester. The program accounted for 3,589 of the university’s 3,633 online students last fall, which was nearly double the institution’s in-person enrollment of 1,801 students, according to the newspaper’s investigation.

Career Plus works together with unions, including the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, to offer a free college benefit to union employees and children of union employees. Students in the program could earn an online associate degree at Eastern Gateway Community College and complete a bachelor’s degree at Central State.

Last July, the U.S. Education Department said that Eastern Gateway’s online program violated federal financial aid rules and that the institution was no longer permitted to disburse Pell Grants to new students. At the time, the Education Department accused Eastern Gateway of charging students it determined to have less financial need less than their Pell-eligible peers. Eastern Gateway is “currently working with the Department of Education to determine if there is a viable way to restructure the program and meet federal financial compliance,” according to the Eastern Gateway website.

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