As school children return to classrooms across the Bay Area, a growing number of working adults are taking their seats at Cañada College thanks to a program aimed at simplifying the process of earning a college degree.
The College for Working Adults began in 2011 and only requires students to attend class one night a week and on Saturdays. Participants earn a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with an emphasis in Social and Behavioral Science and/or Humanities. It prepares students for a variety of careers related to education, law, social work, business, and politics. It’s funded by Measure G, the parcel tax passed by San Mateo County voters in 2010.
The program’s curriculum is set, classes are guaranteed, and students enter in a cohort with other working adults. That structure is exactly what Michael Piccoli of San Francisco was looking for when he enrolled in the program’s first cohort in 2011.
“The fact that the curriculum is pre-planned to help you obtain your associate’s degree is great,” said Piccoli, 42, who commutes daily to Palo Alto to work at the Stanford Neiman Marcus store. “There’s no thinking involved about what classes you need to take to fulfill your degree requirements.”
Twenty-seven students enrolled in the first cohort in 2011. That grew to 31 in 2012 but the program’s popularity exploded this fall, with 60 new students enrolled in the third cohort.
“The selling point for me was that I could work full-time and go to school because the professors were being hand-picked specifically for this program and they understood we were working adults with families and responsibilities,” said San Jose’s Sandra Floyd, a mother of four who works for the County of San Mateo. She was part of the first cohort in 2011 and enrolled after not having attended school for 22 years.
Floyd said it was a little nerve racking at the beginning but it became easier as she met classmates. “The cohort allows you to meet and bond with people you might have never had the opportunity to meet. I personally have made friendships with some of my classmates that will remain even after we move on from this program.”
She said the College for Working Adults has motivated her to pursue a bachelor’s degree and, ultimately, a master’s degree. “This program is amazing,” she said. “The professors understand how tired we are from working eight to 10 hours a day, but they make the material so exciting that you tend to forget the rest of your day.”
Menlo Park’s Stephanie Culberson, who works as an administrative associate in the Stanford University School of Business Marketing and Communications, said she watched as many of her coworkers were pursuing degrees. She enrolled in the program’s first cohort and is now on track to complete three associate degrees in May and will transfer to Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. “I plan on using my degree to leverage a Human Resources position at Stanford where I’ve worked for 12-and-a-half years.”
When he’s finished with the College for Working Adults, Piccoli will transfer to San Francisco State University and pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration with a concentration in marketing. “That’s the ultimate goal and it’s very doable for me now because I’ve been in school for a while,” he said. “I want to pursue a job or career in marketing, public relations, or as a creative director.”
David Johnson, Cañada’s Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, oversees the College for Working Adults. He said helping working adults earn their degree and transform their lives was the goal of the program. “We know it’s a struggle to work eight hours a day and then attend class at night,” he said. “We wanted to make the process as simple as possible.”