Notes from the President

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

We are moving into the final week of classes before Spring Break here at EC3PA – our first! As I chatted with students over the course of the week, one thing has become undeniably clear to me: students are tired. College is hard – just as it’s supposed to be – and as I’ve mentioned previously, a good number of our students are trying to balance college with other life responsibilities. They’ve been doing so admirably for almost two months, and they are more than ready for a break. In just a few days, they’ll have one at long last.

Someone recently asked me how colleges determine things like the timing of semesters and breaks, so that inspired me to share with you the philosophy underpinning the timing of Spring Break here at EC3PA. Surprisingly enough, there’s no standard in academia for when Spring Break should occur; in fact, some institutions are doing away with it entirely. During their time away, some students who have the means will travel, and others will use the time to pick up extra shifts at work; still others will use the time as a staycation, to catch up on sleep, and/or to study for midterms. The important point is that it’s a break from learning new material and, if you will, an invitation to lift their foot off the gas for a few days. From what I’ve seen, our students need this break.

So why this week? Well, this goes back to a question of college philosophy and student needs. As you’ve all heard me say repeatedly, we are building EC3PA around our students’ needs. My decades in higher education have shown me that timing really is everything when it comes to Spring Break. If taken too early, the latter weeks of the semester create students who are beyond exhausted as they round the corner headed into finals. If taken too late, students are beyond exhausted as they head into their midterms. Additionally, I’ve worked at institutions in which Spring Break was scheduled to coincide with the week that the majority of the K-12 feeder districts were off (usually tied to the Easter holiday); however, those breaks are most often scheduled much, much later in the semester – too late to serve the purpose that a break is supposed to serve for college students. None of these options is ideal. Personally, I contend that Spring Break is a designated time to rest and rejuvenate so that students can approach the latter half of the semester with the same vim and vigor they brought to the first half. So, just as was the case with Goldilocks, we set out at EC3PA to choose a time for our break that was just right for our students.

For us, this means that Spring Break falls just before midterms week; it’s the halfway point of the semester that began in January. Because of this decision, students will return from their time away from campus to sit for their midterms rather than dragging themselves in to do so as their final act before a figurative (and sometimes literal) collapse. And they will return, hopefully, recharged and reinvigorated for the weeks that will lead them to the completion of what will be, for some, their first year of college. We are setting them up to do so.

Beneath the exhaustion that is all too real for EC3PA students right now, I also sense an undercurrent of relief. They know that, if they can just get through another few days, long-anticipated downtime awaits. Just as exercise helps to strengthen the body through exertion, critical thinking and inquiry strengthen the mind through exertion. And just as the body recovers from physical exertion through rest, so too will our students recover from their mental exertions through rest. I’m happy for them; they have worked so hard and earned every minute of this break. When they return, I have every confidence that they will be eager to finish the semester strongly. As ever, we will welcome them back and continue to support them at every step along the way.