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Life in the Class Lane : Education: Older students are finding that it's never too late to earn a degree, and many companies are encouraging their workers to take courses.

April 05, 1990|ROBYN LOEWENTHAL

Attention, children. It is now 10 p.m. Do you know where your parents are? If they live and work in Ventura County, chances are that Mom or Dad is at an evening college class, along with many other adults, who are pursuing four-year degrees in their present fields.

The profile of the adult or "non-traditional" student (defined as 25 and older) has changed over the past 15 years. Although still primarily female, the average age of the student is now mid-30s instead of mid-40s. Before, women often returned to school as the result of divorce, widowhood or an "empty nest." They sought to prepare themselves to enter the job market or thought they would "take a few classes."

Today's student, of either gender, rather than taking random courses, is more likely to be working full time during the day and enrolled in a degree program.

Audrey Schultze was a student at Moorpark College in 1970 when her studies were interrupted by divorce and she had to go to work.

"For years I was doing the same work as people who had degrees, but I couldn't get ahead without one," said Schultze, 54.

Within one year of enrolling in California Lutheran University's Adult Degree Evening program, she received a promotion and raise. Last spring she received the "Corporate Scholar Award" and departmental honors as the student with the highest grades in business administration.

In John Barker's case his wife suggested that he return to school. Barker, 35, of Camarillo is self-employed in bookkeeping and property management.

"I worked in the oil field in Ventura and other parts of California and the hours were not conducive to family life," he said.

Evening classes at the Ventura satellite campus of Cal State Northridge allow him to baby-sit between 3 and 5 p.m. while his wife takes two of their three children, who are actors, to commercial and theatrical casting calls. When they return, he goes to school.

Michael Doyle, director of curriculum/assessment at Cal Lutheran's Adult Degree Program, says adults are returning to school for one of three reasons.

Many find that their careers have plateaued, making additional education necessary for career advancement. A second group consists of the underemployed, often clerical or administrative workers, who are usually female. The third and smallest group, for whom education is not related to occupation or career, are those with a lifelong commitment to learning.

"The growth in post-secondary education in Ventura County has been phenomenal since the 1980s," said Paul Siegel, of the Census Bureau in Maryland. Siegel attributes much of this growth to the many employer-based training opportunities in the county, which did not exist 15 years ago.

Motivated job-seekers are attending college to improve their skills while many employers are encouraging and supporting their workers' participation in educational programs.

Sue and Chris Van Buren, 40 and 45 respectively, have senior positions at GTE in Thousand Oaks. With no children at home, they chose to complete the University of Redlands program at GTE together. Classes are held where the couple work and, along with tuition reimbursement, there is the promise of career advancement once they earn bachelor of science degrees in business and management.

Six institutions in Ventura County now offer four-year degree programs in addition to teaching credentials, professional certificates or graduate study. Each has a different delivery style, a particular emphasis on majors, an individual academic calendar and costs.

A private liberal arts university, California Lutheran provides the county's only residential adult program where classes can be taken on the main campus. The University of La Verne Point Mugu Residence Center, established in 1969, is a private institution and the oldest extension campus in Ventura County. The Ventura extensions of Cal State Northridge and UC Santa Barbara provide degree course work at a lower cost. Employers can even bring college to their workers, such as GTE's on-site program with the University of Redlands.

The programs are designed to meet the needs of working adults by offering classes at night or on Saturdays, some via satellite or on the employers' premises. On the other hand, students who can live on campus and participate full time in a four-year program based on the great books of Western Civilization, can attend Thomas Aquinas College, a private, independent Catholic college near Santa Paula.

The community colleges of Oxnard, Ventura and Moorpark play an important role in the county's adult education. Besides re-entry guidance, mostly for women, they provide career enhancement counseling and a variety of other services. The community colleges are steppingstones to higher education. Students can obtain two-year associate of arts degrees in several areas, or they can transfer course work and apply the credits earned toward a four-year degree.

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