Notes from the President

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

This week marks the final week of classes for our inaugural semester at EC3PA, and we move into our final exam period next week.  Our students are steadfastly trudging toward the finish line, and a semester’s worth of work has them feeling more than a little tired.  Yet, there’s also an undercurrent of excitement afoot because winter break is right around the corner; for students who plan to take classes all year to accelerate their graduation timeline, these next few weeks will be their only significant period of appreciable downtime.  It’s a popular time for vacations and rest, and the holidays offer a time to connect with friends and family far and near as well.

For EC3PA staff, on the other hand, we are gearing up for another round of student recruitment as part of our retention efforts.  As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, one measure of our success as an institution of higher learning is the degree to which we retain our students from one semester to the next; this is calculated by counting the number of students who return from the Fall semester to take classes again in the subsequent Spring semester.  As a result, we are looking forward to the start of our second semester — less than a month away at the time of this writing — while also trying to help our students finish their current semester as strongly as possible.  

In mid-December, it may feel premature to invoke the image of Janus, the Roman god of time who presides over the coming new year’s arrival by simultaneously looking both forward and backward, but that’s exactly where we are as a college.  From my experience, it’s never too early to think about next semester’s enrollment.  We have to be able to look in two directions at once because that’s what our students need from us.  As this semester winds down, we are reflecting on our successes and challenges as America’s newest community college, and at the same time, we want to be sure that we have a solid new plan in place for the semester to come.  And our first focus is, necessarily, on retention; we want our students who are here now to come back.  Helping them choose classes and get ready for what comes next has been our focus since our open enrollment period began earlier this month.  Our counselors are helping students choose classes and plan their futures both here at EC3PA and beyond.  It’s a process that we’ll continue until the new semester begins.

At the same time, we also want to reach out to potential students who have not yet become part of the EC3PA family.  To that end, we have scheduled a series of registration information sessions taking place this month and next to help our community learn about how to apply for admission, to register for classes, and to become more familiar with the courses and degree programs available to them.  We offer these sessions both in the afternoons and in the evenings so that students who work full-time jobs are able to attend, and the number of sessions will increase as the beginning of the Spring 2022 semester draws near.  January 10 feels far away as I write, but with the holiday break coming up soon, we only have about three weeks to accomplish all that I’ve outlined above.  

Our faculty, staff, and administration have worked tirelessly to help our current students experience success during this first semester, and they are not taking their proverbial foot off the gas even as the last week of the semester looms large.  Using what we know about the Fall semester to make transformations for the Spring semester is part of our commitment to continuous improvement and to student success.  What feels far away will soon be here, and that brings with it another form of excitement for us and for our students.  Like Janus, we have much to look back upon fondly and much to anticipate.  As ever, we will continue to do this with a focus on the students we serve.