OXNARD — Working adults looking to earn an associate's degree can take advantage of a new Oxnard College program designed to get them a diploma in two years.
Already popular at other colleges across the state, the Program for Accelerated Education, also called PACE, will kick off this fall, offering evening and weekend classes to 120 students.
Although community colleges have long offered night classes, working adults are usually forced to piece credits together to complete a degree. PACE makes it easier by reserving a schedule of night and weekend classes for students in the program and by condensing the time needed to complete them.
"There seems to be such a demand," said Pat Caldwell, who is overseeing the program.
The word is out. The college has been flooded by calls in the last two weeks, and more than 100 potential students have attended half a dozen information sessions.
College officials say the program will fill a niche that has been empty for too long.
"It's wonderful," said Steve McHargue, who teaches history and political science at Oxnard and West Los Angeles colleges. "The whole county has had this lapse in service."
Indeed, many interested students have said they took some community college classes, but it was just too hard to complete a degree and work at the same time. Plowing through the two-year-degree course work can take between three and 10 years.
Classes traditionally span 18 weeks. But in the PACE program, students agree to cram the same hours of study into nine. That allows them to complete more classes in a shorter period, educators said.
Randy Hill of Camarillo said he's ready to enroll after attending an information meeting this week. Being able to work and earn a degree at the same time is just what he's wanted, but he has never been able to coordinate the class times on his own, he said.
"I've always been too busy or had to work too much," said Hill, 23.
Hill, who manages technical support at a local university, said the program will allow him to easily transfer to a four-year institution.
But officials warn that the program isn't easy. Students who begin this fall will be in class four hours a week, plus eight hours every other Saturday. They will complete two classes every nine weeks, allowing them to earn full-time student credit every semester.
Program administrators don't hide the rigorous nature of the program. They want students to know what they are getting themselves into.
"When we warn them, many are saying, 'That's OK. We're ready,' " said Caldwell.
McHargue, who also teaches in the PACE program at West L.A. College, said students often develop tight-knit relationships because they take a set course of classes together over two years.
"People tend to work together because they have to to survive," he said.
Interested students, who can opt for a business or liberal arts track, are also drawn to the fact that they'll be taking classes at the new Cal State Channel Islands site in Camarillo, saying the collegiate environment is appealing.
Started in Detroit in the late 1970s, PACE is offered in scores of community colleges around the country, including many in California. The state does not require colleges to offer a PACE program, but the courses meet the state's requirements for transferring and earning a degree.
Each college develops its own PACE program, which tends to attract students who want to improve their earning power.
"There are a lot of people out there who are watching the young kid with a college degree pass them by," said Sandra Mayo, who runs the PACE program at Valley College in the San Fernando Valley. "We've really set it up for them."
The 1,000 seats available for the Valley College program are usually filled, said Mayo. All of the nine colleges in the Los Angeles district run PACE programs. It's a school's willingness to provide special support, including expediting applications and providing parking permits, that makes the program work, administrators say.
"We tried to set up a program so the time-impaired could still get an education," said Mayo. "We just try to make life a little bit easier. I think the students really appreciate it."