Chris Gray, Ph.D. 

Founding President, Erie County Community College of Pennsylvania 

EC3’s Mid-Fall Session starts on Monday, and we are so excited to be approaching an important milestone in the College’s history:  450 students.   

We’ve been marking significant milestones since we began our journey together in September 2021 with that inaugural class of students. We just passed 400 students earlier this year, and that felt surreal since it happened even quicker than we could have hoped or predicted. That’s a LOT of lives changed in a short period of time. As I sit here thinking about the last few years, I’m realizing that it feels like these milestones are coming more quickly.  That may just be the nature of the way the passage of time feels, but there’s some powerful inertia at work here. EC3 is an object in motion, and as we learned from Newton’s First Law of Motion, objects in motion tend to stay in motion. That is the plan. 

Outside of academia, milestones hold immense significance in our personal and professional lives, serving as markers of progress and achievements. In many ways, academia provides us with a set of natural milestones: new semesters, new programs, student enrollment, and graduation are just a few. With set start and end end dates, academia compartmentalizes time into easy little boxes on the calendar. Within those boxes, a significant part of our duty as higher education providers is to aggregate data, analyze it, and use it to guide our decision making for the future. And as I’ve explained several times, I’m a huge believer in using data to drive our decisions.   

With more and more students enrolling, we have an ever larger data set from which to draw. As our latest group of new and returning students joins us this week, the data set will continue to expand some more.  Our five-semester academic year (more on this in a coming blog) affords us five distinct checkpoints to track our progress and celebrate small victories along the way. This not only helps us to see what is working but also keeps us motivated to continue striving for success.  

At the same time, milestones serve as reminders of our journey. Many members of our first cohort of students have graduated and moved onto the next phase of their lives; by design, their time with us is short. We have built this college around an efficiency model, in fact. We don’t want to ever put our students into a position in which they are wasting time taking classes that they don’t need.   

So, we chose to grow slow. Sure, we could have offered more things, but they wouldn’t have been the right things for our students or our community. We could have reached larger milestones sooner, but it would have come at a cost that we weren’t willing to pay. We didn’t want to gamble with our students’ futures or with their trust, so we opted, like Aesop’s tortoise, to continue slowly and steadily.   

And here we are!  This week, a new group of students is likely feeling excited, nervous, eager, and maybe terrified. Another new chapter is about to begin — for our students and for us.  Another new milestone was passed today, and together, we march forward into a future that we choose to create.  It’s that latest chapter in our shared story, and, like 450, it’s coming soon. 

Our community: your college.