STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (WKBN) – Eastern Gateway Community College was granted an injunction Friday against the U.S. Department of Education (DOE).

The college filed the injunction after the DOE ordered them to stop awarding financial aid through the college’s Free College Benefit Program over questions about the process by which it was providing free tuition to some and not others.

The issue surrounds Title IV (student financial aid). About 92% of EGCC students participate in a program through the college that awards free tuition to union-affiliated students through the Free College Benefit Program. The program is designed to provide free college to union members and their families.

The program pays all costs after all other grants and scholarships have been exhausted. If a participating student receives no grants, their full tuition and fees are paid for by the scholarship.

Most EGCC students do not need to borrow Federal Direct Loans. However, Pell grants (from the DOE) account for a substantial portion of Eastern Gateway’s overall revenue at 74.5%.

After reviewing Gateway’s process, the DEO issued a cease and desist order saying that the college’s Free College Benefit Program “causes disparate treatment among students based on Pell-eligibility.” Saying that Title IV assistance cannot be assessed charges that are “higher than what is charged to a student not receiving Title IV aid and that students enrolled under the Free College Benefit Program are charged more than non-Title IV recipients enrolled under the same program.”

“Consequently, this model violates the Title IV statute, and therefore, it cannot be used by EGCC as currently implemented,” the USDOE wrote in its court filing.

So, a cease and desist order was issued July 18 telling Gateway not to disburse Pell funds to any new students enrolling in the Free College Benefit Program as the department continues its review of the program.

EGCC proved to the court that it would be detrimental to stop awarding aid and would be a burden on the college and its students to not move forward with enrolling new students under the program.

The court agreed and granted the injunction on Friday, meaning Gateway’s Free College Benefit Program can continue while the USDOE continues to review the process.

The DOE placed EGCC on Heightened Cash Monitoring 2, following the investigation into the financing model of the Free College Benefit Programs. The investigation found “systemic issues” including discrepancies in accounting records and inadequate internal controls.