Notes from the President

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

My very first post here in the EC3PA blog was titled Just Start, and I used that space to share my unlikely journey from small-town kid to college president. Just about a year ago now, I explained the importance of just taking a single first step when it comes to the life-changing decision that is undertaking a college education. And at the same time, I shared my student-centered philosophy of education: that it’s our job, duty, and privilege to meet students where they are and help them reach whatever educational goal they’ve set for themselves. I’ve talked about avoiding the creation of barriers and the ways in which EC3PA is different from other institutions. This little corner of the web has housed my musings and will continue to do so as we begin to repeat the academic cycle that we began together for the first time last year.

Seeing so many students join our ranks, just start, and complete their first classes shows me that we are fulfilling our promise. And of course, we will continue to do so. Our culture is one that puts students first, and the next four days are likely to bring us our most vulnerable new students; these are the ones who weren’t thinking they would take classes this fall or delayed registering for any number of reasons. They may even have convinced themselves that it’s too late, that they’re not college material, or that they can’t afford the tuition. Our staggered start times are such that it’s never “too late,” but with the traditional sixteen-week semester launching next week, it’s easy to kick that can down the road to be dealt with next month, next semester, or next year.

Our job during these last few days is to make clear to anyone who asks that it’s not too late to start. We are continuing to help our students enroll, find and register for their classes, and take that first step forward. We have academic advisors on standby whose job is to help students choose the courses that align with their career paths. The overwhelming nature of course selection can be managed by trained professionals who have chosen to dedicate their careers to helping students stay on track. They help students to follow their chosen career pathways and graduate on time. They help them choose courses that will transfer to a four-year degree if that is their intent. They even help them choose the number and time of their classes based on work and family commitments, taking care to ensure that their schedules make sense and are set up to foster success. And, wow, they have been busy! They will continue to be busy for another week or so, and then there will be a slight lull until the cycle repeats itself for each new semester.

I mention this because, as regular readers know, I remember all too well feeling adrift in a sea of choices when I entered my own community college. I didn’t have a strong sense of what I wanted to do at first, and I didn’t understand concepts like general education core curricula. As a result, I wasted valuable time and money because I tried to do it alone. I made my best guess and was right part of the time, and I became sure that there had to be a better way. EC3PA’s approach most definitely IS that better way.

This year, my youngest is beginning his senior year of high school, and his experience is so different from my own at his age. He feels confident that he can do whatever he wants, and he has a strong support system behind him; he has parents who know “How to College,” and he comes to us often with questions. It’s the difference between night and day. I’m sure that we have students on both ends of this educational experience spectrum and at all points in between. Watching our academic advisors help students from all backgrounds choose the courses that will help them to take their next step has been incredibly humbling to me. They are making such a difference in so many students’ lives, and they are helping these students reach their own moments in which everything changes. What amazing work!