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Ranessa Ashton, public information officer for San Diego Continuing Education, explains with the program has to offer.

First, please tell me about the Continuing Education program. Are the classes really free?

We’re the adult education division of the San Diego Community College District. You know how there’s K-12 public education? Well, it’s really K-14, which includes public adult education. We offer non-credit classes in many areas including short-term job training or certificate programs, GED programs and adult basic skills, English as a second language, disability support programs and services, computers, hospitality, parent education. We also have an emeritus program for adults age 55+.

We have over a thousand classes, and yes, they’re really free.

Where are the campuses?

We have six main campuses in San Diego. There’s the Educational Cultural Complex in Southeast San Diego. Centre City is our downtown campus. Mid-City is on Fairmount near University. There’s also North City on Aero Drive, West City in Point Loma, and Cesar Chavez next to Chicano Park.

What kinds of job training or certificate classes are available, and who takes them?

I’ll start with your second question first. We serve about 100,000 students annually in our main six campuses. The people who take our classes include both those who are looking to start new careers as well as those who just want to step up their skills to make themselves more valuable in their field. Then, there are also people who need the more basic skills, like reading and writing, and others who want to try something new, like a cooking class. Our students are adults of all ages.

Our job training/certificate programs include automotive, child development, clothing construction, computers, culinary arts, electronics, graphics, metal trades, nursing assistant, office skills, plumbing, upholstery, web skills, welding, and HVAC [heating and air conditioning].

Within these areas, there are shorter certificates. For example, we have three programs in automotive technology. There’s auto technician, where you can learn to repair cars. Then, there’s auto body and paint technician, and auto upholstery. Also, in our culinary program, we have culinary arts as well as professional bakeshop.

Last fall, there were a couple of women in the auto technician class, which is sometimes unusual. One of the gals took the class because she was tired of not knowing how to fix her car. She loved it and learned that she could go through a series of classes and get a certificate that would allow her to start working in the automotive industry. Her original intent wasn’t to get an automotive job but she left with the training that would make that possible.

You can receive most certificates within a year, some in as little as 24 to 36 weeks.

And, my goodness, it’s free!

Who teaches the courses?

We have about 600 continuing education instructors. Many have master’s degrees or doctorates, and most have been professionals within their field. We’re an accredited institution, and that requires a high level of quality in our instructors and classes.

Can you get college credit for any of the classes?

No, Continuing Education classes are all non-credit classes. But there are a couple of cases where, depending on the program, students may be able to get college credit for some of the work if they decide to get a degree at City, Mesa, or Miramar Colleges. The student services counselors we have at each campus would be able to help students understand their options.

How does registration work?

Many of our classes are first-come-first-serve, and you register in the class. But most of the job training and certification programs require a mandatory orientation. Some of those orientations have online registrations. The best thing to do to find out about a particular class is to call or visit the campus that has the class or the program you’re interested in.

So, is there anything still available for fall?

Depending on the class, there may be room immediately, or for some you might have to wait until spring. But we do orientations ongoing throughout the semester, so even if a course is not available right now, you can still take the steps needed to get going in a certificate program.

Some of our classes, like our open computer labs and basic skills classes, have so many options, at various times of day, on multiple campuses, and on several days of the week – even weekends – that you’ll be able to find something now.

When does the next semester begin?

The spring semester classes begin January 26th.

Do you have any advice for first timers who are overwhelmed by the number of options available?

Decide what interests you and what your needs are. Then use the search on our website. You can search by a campus or by a time of day or by instructor or topic. Then you can narrow it down a little bit at a time.

And for those who are looking to get into a certificate program, I’d talk to a student services counselor to determine your needs and your options first. Then schedule an orientation and start taking a class. Sometimes it’s hard to take that first step, but once you do, it’s done, and next thing you know, you’re on your way.

Plus, it’s free!

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