As a Los Angeles County probation officer, Grayson Cook deals with the seamier side of life. On weekends, he reaffirms his faith in "the magic of mankind."
For 10 years, Cook, who is 50 and single, has dedicated his weekends and vacations to the footloose and fanciful pursuit of knowledge. And he has done so--spending up to $4,000 each year--with nary a care for a scholarly diploma, professional certificate or the prospect of career advancement.
Cook, with hundreds of other Southlanders, is a die-hard Saturday scholar.
Whether through the auspices of UCLA's mammoth Extension program, the region's inexpensive community colleges, through private, commercial institutions such as the Learning Tree or the Learning Annex, or under the aegis of nonprofit institutions such as Everywoman's Village, there is something to suit almost every educational whim.
"Just look through the catalogues," Cook says. "If you can't find something that interests you, you gotta be dead."
Finds an Eclectic Array
Although he has a graduate degree in public administration, Cook's extracurricular interests lie in writing, film, archeology and travel. He satisfies all of them through UCLA Extension which, he says, offers the most eclectic array of courses in town.
Michael Bley, director of marketing for UCLA Extension, says that his program--launched more than 70 years ago to teach new agricultural techniques to farmers in outlying areas--now offers about 4,500 courses each quarter, ranging from architecture and art history to writing and women's studies. Typically, each course runs for 12 weeks.
UCLA Extension experienced its first boom in adult education not for degree purposes during the '60s and '70s, when Southern California took the fore in the nationwide quest for personal fulfillment.
Weekend programming was expanded significantly in 1983 as it became increasingly apparent that such scheduling was especially convenient for a huge untapped market of working people.
Indulging in Other Pleasures
"Saturdays are a wonderful time for otherwise busy people to indulge themselves in the life of the ancient Greeks, an afternoon hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains, or an evening gazing at the stars in one of our astronomy courses," says Bley.
And rather than squander one's yearly vacation lounging at a resort, Cook has embarked--through UCLA Extension--on archeological excursions to Yucatan and Guatemala, and will soon leave for Thailand with an art historian eager to convey some of the secrets of Siam.
Of course, not all prospective Saturday students view weekend education as a leisure pursuit.
Indeed, for some, a Saturday hitting the books can provide a ticket out of a dead-end job. For underemployed or underqualified overachievers, the best bet in town appears to be the Project for Adult College Education, or PACE.
PACE, which operates out a number of community colleges in Los Angeles, offers an accelerated route into the third year of such four-year institutions as Pepperdine University, the University of Redlands or Cal Lutheran.
In most instances, PACE can also serve as a launching vehicle into the Cal State University system.
The PACE program was initiated at Wayne State University in Detroit. Thomas O'Dea, who brought it to Los Angeles Harbor College in San Pedro two years ago, says that intensive Saturday class scheduling enables PACE students to complete two years of liberal arts course work in five 20-week semesters.
PACE programs operate out of Los Angeles Mission College in San Fernando, East Los Angeles College in Monterey Park, West Los Angeles College in Culver City and Southwest College in Los Angeles, near LAX.
Personal Enrichment Courses
Those less bent on a degree or certificate are encouraged to enroll in any of Los Angeles' nine community colleges. All offer certificate programs and, through their respective community services programs, a full range of non-credit, personal enrichment courses.
At Los Angeles City College, for instance, students can work at a more leisurely pace toward an associate degree, or perhaps eventually transfer into a four-year program. There are courses in accounting, art, broadcasting, business, child development, business, math and even real estate.
In addition to the usual gamut of educational services, Santa Monica Community College boasts a Professional Institute, which, spokesman Bruce Smith says, is designed for business people and professionals who wish to upgrade their skills or who plan to take a professional exam.
Also at Santa Monica Community College is a Children's College, which employs teachers accredited by the Santa Monica or Los Angeles Unified school districts. Children ages 5 through 12 can enroll throughout the year (summers included) for language, music or art instruction.