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There's Book Learning . . . or Fun Learning


So sick of sitting in stuffy, darkened theaters this summer that you wish a comet would wipe the smirk off Bruce Willis' face once and for all?

Too broke for a trip to the Bahamas?

Consider taking a summer class that teaches you how to spin wool with a drop spindle, how to win in small claims court or how to belly dance.

Such courses are offered at some of the county's community colleges and by city recreational departments for people interested in learning just for the fun of it.

Years ago, however, the four-year colleges that serve Ventura County stopped offering courses people take for the joy of learning rather than academic credit.

"We ran those adult education programs until the mid-'70s," said John Maxwell, dean of UC Santa Barbara's extended learning services, which also operates on the university's campus in Ventura. "We stopped because people won't pay the fees."

Officials at that university and the two others in the county--Cal State Northridge's Ventura County campus and Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks--said they found that most people would not shell out the $300 or so to take courses on how to strum a guitar or write a novel.

"Starting in the mid-'70s, we switched entirely to professional development," Maxwell said. "People will pay for professional-type courses because it's an economic investment for them."

Consequently, classes on subjects such as how to use the Internet ($150) and word-processing software ($255) are being offered at UCSB Ventura this summer.

At Cal Lutheran and Cal State Northridge, extension courses are designed mainly for teachers trying to advance their careers.

Low-cost enrichment classes, however, are in full swing at the county's community colleges.

As part of Ventura College's community services program, about 200 classes are being offered this summer, from swing dancing to sailboat racing, at an average of $50 a course. Moorpark College has no community services program, but people can take classes on subjects of general interest through the college's regular curriculum for modest fees.

For instance, an astronomy course is being offered at Moorpark College beginning next month for less than $40.

Oxnard College temporarily discontinued its community services program after the longtime director, Margret Hoag, retired in June. But officials there say some enrichment courses will start again in the fall.

Although some colleges are scaling back or eliminating community services programs, Ventura College is committed to maintaining its year-round offerings of enrichment courses, officials said.

By offering the classes, Ventura College barely breaks even and sometimes loses money, said Sharon Davis, who oversees the program.

"It's very labor intensive, finding instructors and then screening them, finding room locations," Davis said. "But the philosophy of administration is to remain an outreach for the community. We're trying to meet the needs of the community, whether it makes money or not."

At Moorpark, officials said it wasn't necessary to run a separate department to offer such classes.

"A separate department requires a lot of overhead expenses," said spokeswoman Jeannie Bailey. "We don't need to run a separate department when we have all these electives folded into our curriculum already."

The college offers classes from beginning photography to tap dancing for $13 a unit. There are also one-day seminars, usually on Saturdays, on subjects ranging from domestic violence to healthful eating that cost as little as $6.

Moorpark College astronomy professor Carolyn Mallory said some of her students take her class simply because they are interested in learning more about the stars and galaxies. The instruction is offered mostly over a local cable television channel and students must visit the campus only five times during a semester.

Mallory said such "telecourses" give busy people or people who can not easily leave their homes a chance to take a class for recreational purposes.

"Some of my students have children at home or they have a tough work schedule," Mallory said. "They like the convenience of being able to record the class on their VCR and watching it when they can fit it into their schedule."

Children can also enjoy such classes. At Ventura College, youth courses include learning to draw cartoons to preparing for the SAT.

City recreation departments also offer an array of classes. The Ventura Department of Community Services offers 400 classes per year for children and adults.

Classes, from clogging to dog obedience, cost about $40. In some cases, not enough people sign up and the class is canceled, said Georgeanne Less, cultural affairs supervisor.

For example, a drawing class in which students were limited to black and white pastel crayons and paints did not succeed.

"It's always disappointing to the teachers and to the few people who do show up when that happens," Less said.

The Conejo Recreation and Park District also offers classes, seminars and guided hikes.

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