There has been a new school in the area for less than a year, and it's helping many students find a new avenue for education.

Erie County Community College was a years-long discussion in the region, and a controversial one, at that. 

Dr. Chris Gray is the founding president of Erie County Community College.

"We're not interested in having to say 'here we are for everyone, come to us,' that's not what community colleges do," said Gray. "We say, 'where are you in your life and how can we come to you?"

The school currently has four locations; The Erie County Technical School-Skill Center, The Corry Higher Education Council building, and the Tom Ridge Environmental Center-Regional Science Consortium.

Approval for what's called EC3 was a long road, with meetings and years of supporters crusading for the educational option.

Classes started for the first time on September 1, 2021, with three programs provided at the moment; an Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts, Associate of Applied Science in Information Technology, and Associate of Applied Business and Management

The majority of students are non-traditional, like Tommy Clanton, who went to culinary school and now wants to add to his expertise with a business degree.

"It was a fairly simple decision," said Clanton. "I was just interested in furthering my education. It was very convenient."

He's a student in professor Kimber Forrester's class, one of the inaugural hires for the school.

"I was just excited to be given the opportunity because I think this is such an important thing to have in this community," said Forrester.

From the president, to deans and others, there are 54 total employees that work with the 250 students currently enrolled and getting free tuition.

A priceless option that Gray says could last for another year, while the school is in the processing of applying for accreditation.

A welding program is in the works, but for now, registration is underway for summer classes.

Virtual classes are also available.