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They're Never Too Old to Learn : Adult education is a booming business, with state enrollment about 1.5 million. In some South Bay districts, adult students outnumber the kids, with English as a Second Language courses among the most popular.

February 07, 1988|BOB WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

Would you like to learn How to Remember and Tell a Good Joke? Could you use a little more insight into Men Who Hate Women and Why Women Love Them? How about a Game Plan for Personal Power, some Planning for Financial Success, a little coaching on You, Your Job, Your Happiness, or guidance on Returning to Singleness?

These subjects--and virtually any other topic that's teachable--are offered in the South Bay's adult education system "to enrich lives and expand horizons," as one school's brochure puts it.

There are many types of public and private schools for adults, but only unified and high school districts are funded by the state on the same basis as kindergarten-through-12th-grade schools--that is, average daily attendance, or ADA. And only those districts can award high school diplomas to adults who missed their graduation ceremonies the first time around. Elementary school systems generally are not authorized to run adult education programs, although some, like the Lennox and Hawthorne districts, offer special classes on their campuses for immigrants in cooperation with a high school or unified district.

Booming Business

Although less visible on the educational scene, adult education is a booming business, and in some districts the older students outnumber the kids by a wide margin. In the South Bay Union High School District, for example, about 3,700 children attend regular classes, while the adult division boasts an enrollment of nearly 6,300.

In California, about 1.5 million adults are enrolled in the state-funded system. That's about a third of the total number of kindergarten-through-12th-grade students and more than all the students in the state's college and university systems put together.

Rapidly growing numbers of immigrants in the South Bay and generally throughout the state have made English as a Second Language the biggest part of many adult education programs. Further expansions of adult education are expected next year, when the state will require many recipients of welfare to enroll in classes designed to qualify them for employment.

In some South Bay districts with declining enrollment, adult education that generates state funding has helped offset losses in the regular schools. Torrance Unified, which enrolls about 8,000 adult students, has converted four closed campuses to adult education.

"If we didn't have adult training programs, we might have lost those schools permanently," said Torrance administrator Paul Mackey. "As it is, we have them ready in case they are needed in the future for regular schools, and in the meantime, they are providing important services to the community."

South Bay Union has leased closed elementary schools in Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach for adult classes, but plans to move its adult division back to classrooms on its own campuses within a year, according to adult school director Sue Crane. Those classrooms at the Mira Costa and Redondo Union high schools would otherwise stand idle as regular enrollment in the district continues to fall, Crane said.

Inglewood Unified runs the biggest adult division in the South Bay with about 10,500 students currently enrolled, said spokeswoman Ruth Marts. She said the fastest growth in recent years has been in English as a Second Language and business courses.

The financially strapped Palos Verdes Unified district could use a boost from adult education in terms of revenue and fuller use of facilities, spokeswoman Nancy Mahr said. But years ago, the district decided not to compete with local public and private colleges and subsequently lost out in 1979 when the state established a system of funding adult education through the ADA system.

Average daily attendance funding is arrived at by adding up the hours that qualified students spend in the classroom. For adult schools, each 525 hours equals one ADA unit and districts are paid $1,308 for each unit.

El Segundo Unified, which enrolls only about 40 adult students, nearly excluded itself from adult education funding when the state passed out ADA allocations. Its ADA cap is two units, contrasted with Torrance Unified's 1,967, for example.

"We sure can't do much with an ADA of two," said El Segundo administrator Don Riley. "But most of the demand here is for ESL classes and we get a little additional funding for that." Extra government funding is available for ESL classes.

'Cost-Effective Schooling'

"Adult education is the most cost-effective schooling around," said Duff Means, director of the 7,000-student program operated by the Centinela Valley Union High School District. "I'd say about 95% of the facilities we use are classrooms that are already here, so we don't have to get into expensive building programs to carry out the mission."

Costs are also lower in equipment and supplies because they are sometimes shared with the regular schools, and in teacher salaries, which run about $20 an hour--with no fringe benefits. Teachers may work from one hour to 20 hours a week.

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