Chris Gray, Ph.D.

Founding President, Erie County Community College of Pennsylvania

Sometimes, I like to take a step back and talk about the big picture, especially for new readers who have joined us recently. Think of this as the 10,000-foot view if you will. We spend a lot of our time here at EC3 focusing on the day-to-day business of teaching classes — as we should.  But there is also value in seeing where EC3, a community college, fits into the greater higher education system. So that’s what we’re going to do today.

Using a fishing metaphor because it works so well, I like to think of community colleges as institutions whose focus is on casting a wider net. Our focus is to provide a space in which students from disparate backgrounds can find a path to achieve their goals. As a whole, our comprehensive focus is perhaps the trait that most defines and sets community colleges apart from four-year institutions. I certainly mean no disrespect to our four-year institution partners in saying this; we simply have different priorities.

Broadly speaking, community colleges tend to focus our services in three areas: workforce training and development, transfer programs for students looking to complete a four-year degree after their time with us, and career improvement or skills acquisition coursework for those looking to advance within the scope of their employment. Let’s look briefly at each.

One of the key functions of community colleges like EC3 (and that which most distinguishes us from traditional four-year institutions) is the workforce training programs that prepare students for immediate entry into the job market. These programs are designed to provide our students with the practical skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in specific industries and occupations. We are training our students for the jobs that our community needs, so we collaborate closely with local employer partners to develop curricula that align and make sense. Our ongoing partnerships ensure that our students receive the most current and relevant training and that their time with us prepares them to transition directly to their chosen field of employment.

For students looking to pursue a baccalaureate degree after their time with us, community colleges like EC3 also provide transfer courses for students who plan to continue their education at a four-year institution. The affordability of community college tuition offers these students the chance to complete their general education requirements more economically before transferring to a university. Since we offer courses that are equivalent to those found at four-year institutions, we are helping these students save money while simultaneously receiving a high-quality education. Once again, because we have forged articulation agreements with our neighboring four-year institutions, these programs are designed to transfer credits seamlessly to partnering universities, ensuring a smooth transition for students pursuing bachelor’s degrees.

And of course, community colleges serve as a hub for individuals seeking to improve their career prospects or enhance their skills through continuing education and professional development programs. We want to help our community to “upskill” as the world changes and continues to become more complex. From certificate programs to one-shot micro-training sessions, we offer a wide range of opportunities for career improvement and advancement.

So, in a nutshell, we at the community college are different from four-year institutions because we choose to be. We are looking to do more things for larger groups of people, and we aim to cast that net as wide as possible since that’s what serves our students best. Our community: your college.