People who want to take hobby-type classes at Modesto Junior College, such as cooking or aerobics, increasingly are signing up through the community education program, paying a little extra money to keep classes that otherwise might fall to budget cuts.
As the state's financial crisis squeezes community colleges' course offerings, many are eliminating classes that are not required for students to transfer to a four-year university or earn a certificate.
To save such classes as exercise, music, photography and sewing, community colleges are restructuring and moving them to community education programs.
"The strategy is not to lose entirely those offerings," said George Boodrookas, dean of MJC's community and economic development division.
"Teachers are talking amongst themselves trying to find ways of offering and funding classes in a different way."
Traditional programs offer for-credit classes and are funded primarily by the state for students transferring to universities or those who want to earn associate degrees and certification.
Community education programs provide noncredit courses and are self-sustaining, funded wholly by student fees.
Community education fees are a little higher, but usually less expensive than private schools or clubs. For example, fees range from $20 for a one-session harp class for children to $195 for a six-session class titled Creating a Web Site for Your Small/Home Business, according to the community education spring catalog.
Spring semester started this month, but registration is ongoing and classes start throughout the semester.
During budget talks, state lawmakers have told community college leaders that classes should focus on transfer, career technical training and basic skills.
"So now is the time to eliminate courses that are primarily avocational, or, in some cases, to move such courses to self-supporting community education," said Jack Scott, state chancellor of community colleges, in a recent speech to the Community College League of California. "It is not our job to provide physical exercise for adults who don't want to pay the fees to join an athletic club or provide a course for those who want to learn quilting."
MJC's community education division enrolls 6,000 to 8,000 students each semester and has a $1.5 million budget. That enrollment is in addition to MJC's traditional student body of more than 27,000.
Community education is meant to complement, not compete with, the traditional classes.
"People come to an educational institution for a lot of reasons. Some are coming to improve their skills and get a degree. Some are coming to improve themselves in a variety of ways -- the physical, social-emotional, mental and spiritual," Boodrookas said.
"They want the opportunity to do that learning, an opportunity to lead a balanced life."
To learn more about MJC's community education division or to see the spring semester catalog, go to http://mjc4life.org or call 575-6063.