Notes from the President

Chris Gray, Ph.D. | Founding President, Erie County Community College of Pennsylvania

This week marks the start of our Spring semester twelve-week classes. Offering these late-start sections is one way in which we demonstrate our commitment to our students. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, part of my personal mission is to meet students where they are and minimize barriers that keep them from getting where they want to go. Recognizing that not all students are ready or able to attend classes on the first day of the semester is crucial for any institution dedicated to student success.

This year, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 had the nation solidly in its grip right about the time that our new sixteen-week semester began on January 10. Some students didn’t want to start classes because of the increased contagiousness of the variant, and others, of course, had personal and life commitments that prevented them from starting until now. Without this scheduling flexibility, we would leave these students behind. Just as we offer a fee-free application process because we do not want administrative hurdles to keep students from joining us at EC3PA, we continue to build course schedules around the classes that our students need. I’m so proud to be part of an institution that thinks differently about how we treat students.

Unbelievably, we are also twelve weeks out from the end of the semester and the conclusion of our first academic year offering courses at EC3PA. Three months is a very short time in academia, and with our first Spring Break just a few weeks away, time seems to be flying. We continue to add classes and expand our curriculum to serve student needs, and this will continue over the next couple months with the launch of the Summer 2022 course schedule in late March.

Summer is a notably quieter time of year for institutions of higher education; that said, it’s yet another opportunity for us at EC3PA to help serve our students and meet their unique needs. People outside of academia often speak wistfully about the fabled “summer off,” but that assumption rests squarely upon generalized notions of the traditional undergraduate education as one that takes place on a residential campus miles away from home. It presupposes faculty whose primary interest is research with teaching just a distant afterthought. It doesn’t take into account institutions like community colleges, who provide all manner of educational opportunities and employ faculty whose first commitment is to teaching. The true comprehensive community college actually offers a bevy of educational options: English as a Second Language (ESL), General Educational Development (GED) courses, baccalaureate transfer programs, as well as career and technical education courses — to name but a few broad areas. And these don’t suddenly grind to a halt when the Spring semester ends in May.

In fact, many of our students need summer course offerings to accelerate their timeline in order to reach their educational and career goals more quickly. A semester off is a semester lost for these folks. We can’t overlook these students the way other educational models so often do. I was able to accelerate my timeline and finish my undergraduate degree a semester early because of my local community college’s summer class offerings; almost unbelievably, a friend of mine changed her major three times and attended four different undergraduate schools but STILL managed to finish on schedule because of her local community college’s summer offerings. In both of our cases, we owe a great debt of gratitude to our local community college for offering classes to help us to get ahead or stay on track. We both returned to our roots to teach in the same institutions that helped us to get that leg up when we needed it. I’m absolutely committed to ensuring that EC3PA offers this kind of support to our students.

So why mention this now? Winter is still very much with us, and there’s so much that can happen in the next three months. We start thinking about this now because of our students; they live complicated lives and need time to make plans. We need to determine which courses will best serve students’ needs this summer and offer them at times that are convenient. We need to do our part and plan well so that they can get what they need to be successful. This student-centered focus is what continues to set EC3PA apart; we don’t throw together a schedule of classes and just hope that someone shows up, but instead, we make decisions based on what will further student progress. We likewise will not offer classes only in the summer, thereby making them compulsory, because we recognize that many of our students rely on seasonal employment to provide for their families. We will, however, continue to strive to make the journey as seamless as possible by designing our offerings around those we serve.

So we need to start early to deliver early.

Academia always involves looking ahead to the next thing, the next initiative, and the next semester. And as I sit here in my office on a chilly, cloudy, gray Erie winter day, I’m already getting excited about the possibilities that our first summer together will bring for our students and for EC3PA!