Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Retreat from Spring

Grey afternoon at Palisades Park, Santa Monica.
After a beautiful Sunday, Monday was cold, rainy, and windy. What is it about our weather? My French class meets on Monday and Wednesday evenings at Santa Monica College.

Last night, the wind was whipping palm-tree husks around the grounds of the college, and gusts of wind ambushed pedestrians around the massive concrete corners of the campus buildings. As much as I appreciate the accessibility of Santa Monica College, it is not an attractive campus - built in a kind of massive, concrete Soviet-style architecture, the dominant street-feature of the college is a massive parking garage.

These days, many aspiring students rely on community colleges for access to education. Students who may not be sure about interests and ambitions can take basic classes and then transfer to a four-year college once they've figured it out. Working students can attend community college on a part-time basis. Returning adult students can complete a degree or improve a lack-luster GPA. And in a time where four-year college tuition is going up, community college is still affordable.

My French 2 class, which is good for five credits, costs $36 a credit - or $180. Of course, there are fees for "student services" and if you want a parking decal, it's $85 for the semester. And the cost of textbooks is outrageous - I spent over $100 on two USED books. Still, it's a pretty good bargain, if you want an education.

If you haven't been in a college classroom for a while, it's an eye-opener. When you're 57 years old, it feels weird to sit in a plastic chair attached to a little formica desk. The classrooms are plain, unadorned, anonymous beige cells with a white board, and multiple signs prohibiting food and drink, warning against removing desks, and offering emergency phone numbers. The classrooms are clean, though, I'll grant that. Unlike the restrooms, which are a horror of crumpled toilet paper, empty towel dispensers, and puddles of indeterminate liquid on the floors.

I don't know whether these conditions exist at the UC or CSU system schools, or the private colleges in Los Angeles. And I know budget situations are dire. Perhaps the restrooms are cleaner during the day - I only see them after six pm - perhaps the evening custodial shift was eliminated from this year's operating budget.

No, it's a far cry from the picturesque ivy-covered halls that graced even the midwestern land-grant state college I recall from my undergraduate years.

My classmates represent a spectrum of today's college student. Most are young, but some are older, like me. There is a wide range of ethnicity - from African-American kids to the children of Russian and Eastern European immigrants; there's a Vietnamese kid who was born in Paris, Latino kids; a pierced and tattooed white girl with pink hair; a clean-cut ex-military man; a chic Iranian girl with perfect make-up. I'm not sure what they think of the old lady in the front row.

The one thing they all have in common is that they are working hard to get their education, under challenging circumstances. And in the face of budget cuts and diminishing resources, Santa Monica College is there for them to do it.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

built in a kind of massive, concrete Soviet-style architecture, the dominant street-feature of the college is a massive parking garage.

That sounds a lot like all of downtown New Haven, except for the Collegiate Gothic of Yale U.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

The architecture sounds like North Seattle CC, and your description of the classroom reminds me of the last time I took a CC class at night.
I can't speak for the bathrooms, since I used them only at home, but it is probably much like the high school bathrooms I've had to utilize after-hours. UGH.

Littlemama said...

I'm so jealous! Before I was married I was bound and determined to get my Masters. But then a wedding happened, and babies and moves came too frequently so my plan was moved to "someday." Now I'm scared! So much as changed since I was in school. The internet was non-existant back then, and we were just starting to get this new thing called "email." Were you nervous going back?

Aunt Snow said...

littlemama, don't be scared to go back to school. If you really want to, try it! I find that the professors really enjoy having older students in class. A funny part of me feels like a shy 19 year old freshman again, but then I realize that all those 19 year old kids think I'm pretty OK - and if they need to copy someone's notes, I'm a good choice!