Erie County Community College has entered its second semester as America’s newest community college. As we move into the spring semester of 2022, we have a chance to reflect on the tremendous journey we’ve come, celebrate some of our accomplishments, and look forward to what may be next for the county’s only community college. from Erie.
Just over a year ago, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania approved the establishment of Erie County Community College. Through the tireless efforts of county government leadership, Empower Erie, and many local business and civic leaders, the people of Erie County have finally won the power to start their own community college in 2020. After decades of advocacy, support and political maneuvering, EC3PA became a reality. What has happened over the past year and a half is nothing short of miraculous. The county government appointed a board of directors; a president and an interim administration have been put in place to launch the process; then students arrived for classes beginning September 1, 2021.
Following:Erie County Community College is here; the first students started classes this week
The EC3PA may be new, but there’s already plenty to celebrate. In our first semester alone, 300 students were able to access higher education. And of those students, more than a third are students of color; their average age is approaching 40; and they come to us from all over Erie County. Without a doubt, EC3PA has added to the richness of the higher education scene here in Erie County and reached a student body that may not have been able to access our other sister colleges and universities. We are very grateful to have the chance to bring education closer to all who seek it.
However, as compelling as they are, data and statistics still don’t tell the stories that really matter. Please indulge me as I share the journeys of some of our students, whose stories are as diverse and rich as Erie County itself.
A student is a new American from Iran who holds college degrees in their home country. He came to us because he is learning to master English and is seeking an American college degree.
We have two sisters who were originally planning to take a gap year and then attend one of our great local universities, but instead they decided to enroll and take classes at EC3PA – free classes thanks in support of our county government.
Another student owns her own business and just wants to learn accounting skills so she can help make her business more profitable.
One of our student champions is using EC3PA to change his life. He openly shares a story of how he grew up here in Erie and fell into an unfortunate cycle of poverty, petty crime and apathy. He knows he needs to make some serious changes in his life and he attends our community college to learn skills to find a good career to support his family. He challenged many of the people he grew up with to learn to imagine themselves as college graduates capable of being productive, having great careers, and giving back to our community.
It is in these compelling stories that we truly see the wealth of what a comprehensive community college offers to those who need it most.
But, there is so much more to come. EC3PA has just begun its work to help students realize their dreams. The college started with three academic programs, and by fall 2022, we expect to have doubled that number. We know we have an obligation to prepare people for careers in health care, manufacturing, business, and more. We are now engaged in conversations with different businesses and industry sectors to understand their needs so we can help build a future workforce.
We also know we need to help current businesses upskill and train their existing workforce for the ever-changing world we live in. We have just begun our workforce development activities and will soon be offering training to tenured workers right here in Erie County.
We also strive to continue to offer courses when and how our students need them. From West Springfield to North East and from Corry to downtown Erie, we know our students need an accessible, affordable and relevant education. And we will continue to deliver on our promise to make that education possible as we work to help support the economic vitality of Erie County.
Chris Gray, Ph.D., is the founding president of Erie County Community College. Editor’s Note: The columns released today are the first in a series of columns written by the leaders of the Erie County Community College as they transition from their first semester into the new year.