Working adults find community in thriving college program

By David Mamaril Horowitz

Faced with a 9-year gap in her formal education, working mother of two Helani Hodge wanted to resume college.

Hodge’s last attempt did not bode well. She lacked guidance from her counselors and peers, and dropped out of Napa Valley Community College when she was 18.

Last fall, she enrolled at a community college once more — this time, at City College — to join its Working Adult Degree Program. Although still unsettled on a future career, she at least knows today that this time around, her class structure, counselors and classmates are all supporting her and her educational goals.

Geared toward adults who work office hours, the WADP’s in-person classes are all scheduled for weekday evenings and Saturdays, and only at City College’s Mission and Downtown centers.

The structure appeals to many in the college community, as more than one fourth of students taking for-credit classes commute from outside San Francisco, according to the college website’s “Residence” fact sheet. The Mission and Downtown centers are more accessible than Ocean Campus to those commuting from the East Bay.

An orientation for City College Working Adult Degree Program was held in the Mission Center on August 25, 2018 to provide attendees a more thorough understanding of the program. Photo by Sarah Beerjan/The Guardsman
An orientation for City College Working Adult Degree Program was held in the Mission Center on August 25, 2018 to provide attendees a more thorough understanding of the program. Photo by Sarah Beerjan/The Guardsman

“I was interested in the program because of the structure and the support that was mentioned in the initial brochure,” said WADP student Cassandra James, a full-time worker who commutes to college from her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job.

The program also champions a cohort system where classmates stick together through almost every class in the program, with the exception of English and math courses of different proficiencies. The WADP is one of multiple cohort-based programs offered by City College, including Metro Transfer Academies, Puente, the Foundation Promise program and others, Assistant Director for Adult Education Lucy Runkel stated in an email.

“We have a pretty good support system where we have text messaging reminding each other of different assignments,” WADP student Patricia Malone said. “If we need help — like if someone needs a copy of a book or book pages — people are very open to helping each other over obstacles.”

Since its launch one year ago, the program has become a boon for working adults like Hodge, Malone and James, who have taken most of their courses in the program together as a part of Cohort 1. With the average enrollee being older than 40, more than 130 students have already signed up for WADP. This semester, City College added a physics course and an anthropology course to the program.

“The time is convenient because it’s after work,” Hodge said. “If it’s a good class, that class can end up being a therapy session for you. It makes your day so fun even if you’ve had a bad day.”

The program includes a wide variety of courses with strong liberal arts backgrounds, and upon meeting with a counselor, students begin working toward one to three degrees. Two are associate degrees with emphases in Social and Behavioral Sciences, and in Arts and Humanities; another is an associate degree in Social Justice Studies: Ethnic Studies for Transfer.  Program counselors have also created a curriculum for earning all three degrees in two years.

While other colleges like Berkeley City College have similar programs, an attempt to launch the WADP at City College fell by the wayside years ago, Runkel said. Dean of Instruction Lillian Marrujo-Duck revived the program last fall. This semester, the college added Runkel as well as employment and training specialist Delia Cleveland to the program.

“I look forward to supporting them with everything I can, helping them navigate systems, eliminate barriers, tackle obstacles, and maintain the utmost faith in themselves,” Cleveland stated in an email.

With the program growing, Runkel stated there are plans to add a new cohort every semester. This semester marked the establishment of Cohort 3.

“I wanted to just change things in my life, and I wanted to get some type of education,” Hodge said. “[My partner and I] agreed for me to go to school and be able to get a degree so we could help our income and our household, and show our kids that you’ve got to advance in your education.”

The Guardsman