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UCLA Extension Finds Welcome in West Valley

June 26, 1986|ELLEN MELINKOFF | Melinkoff is a Los Angeles free-lance writer

The people at UCLA Extension have come to the conclusion that it's simply too difficult for many West Valley residents to get to classes on the Westwood campus by 7 p.m. on a weeknight.

To leave work at 5 p.m., or later, pick up the kids, go home, grab a quick dinner, arrange for a sitter, make that unpredictable drive over the hill, then head for a parking structure and finally make your way to the classroom is not conducive to a relaxed learning environment. It can take until the 8:30 break just to catch your breath.

Rather than move the time back, university officials have lifted part of UCLA Extension and put it down in the West Valley. In Warner Center, to be specific. Mohammed has come over the mountain.

"This move has come out of our studies on where the kind of people who take our classes are moving," said UCLA Extension's Dean Leonard Freedman. West Valley is one of the hot pockets of the extension-profile population.

'Self-Selection Process'

"Over 70% of people who take extension classes have at least a BA degree. Over 90% of them have one to two years of college." Although Freedman is quick to point out that UCLA Extension, which he said is the largest continuing education program in the United States, encourages all people "irrespective of their college background" to sign up for classes, there is what Freedman calls a "self-selection process" that tends to bring it a more highly educated segment of the community. "But we remain the most accessible part of the university because of our open enrollment policy."

The West Valley satellite is start of long-term plan to make UCLA Extension more than just a Westside program in the minds of Los Angeles people. "We see all of L.A. County as our territory," Freedman said. "And the people of L.A. have an incredible appetite for continuing education."

Although extension has offered classes around the county for several years, this is the first major effort to establish a suburban satellite center with classes from all six UCLA Extension departments. With administrative offices in Warner Center (the Voit Co. has offered a spacious suite at a nominal rent to encourage the program's development) and classes at Taft High School, Holiday Inn, Warner Center Marriott Hotel and Prince of Peace Episcopal Church, the extension program is gearing up for an ambitious fall quarter.

Classrooms Not Expected

Unless the West Valley program expands to the point of including a healthy number of daytime programs, Freedman does not see the practicality of the extension program seeking its own classrooms.

"The Valley has grown to the point where it is feasible to do this kind of programming," said Glodean Gates, coordinator of the West Valley program. "People in the Valley have always taken a lot of continuing education courses." Gates said that, although the program is expected to draw most of its students from the West Valley, there some will come from all along the Ventura Freeway corridor, west to Ventura itself.

Freedman, who lives in Encino, said that, even though the West Valley Extension offers a larger percentage of introductory courses than at the UCLA campus, the courses are taught on the same level in the same way in the Valley as on the Westside. "The range of programs is larger on the Westside so people are going on to more advanced courses. There a few more introductory courses in the Valley because we are reacting to an audience that has not been able to get here comfortably. But I would not accept any notion that people in the Valley aren't keeping up with that level of work."

Especially popular courses in the Valley have included an introductory writing workshop, real estate investment analysis and introduction to artificial intelligence.

Mike Stone, UCLA Extension public relations officer, said that, while studying the demographics in the area, he noted that the family unit appeared stronger in the Valley than over the hill. "People are more married there, while there are more single people on Westside. We looked at that in terms of people's priority and life style."

So, a course entitled "Owning and Operating a Daycare Center" was offered in the Valley but not on the UCLA campus. But, he added, "There must be a lot of singles out there too, because a course called 'Caring Singles' did nearly twice as well in the Valley as a similar course offered at UCLA called 'Approaching New Relationships.' "

The West Valley satellite began last winter with 14 classes. In the three quarters of operation, it has offered 65 classes, with a big increase planned for this fall. The summer session includes courses in tax preparation, jewelry design, owning a child care center, photojournalism, acting, writing, traveler's French and Italian. Summer quarter fees range from $75 for an all-day seminar in "Singles Lifestyles" to $245 for an 11-meeting class in elements of design.

Fees Can Be Prohibitive

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