A Piece of My Mind: Opportunity knocks again

Some decades ago I was a stay-at-home mom, but planning to return to work as soon as my toddlers entered primary school. However, the teaching career I had prepared for was undergoing a slump – the baby boom had become the baby bust, and schools were closing all around. I decided to get re-educated. Fortunately, at that time even a single-income family could afford the $5-per-unit fee for community college.

The local community college offered a special certification as a medical translator, which appealed to me, as it offered a decent work environment and an element of helping people. But the course presumed a knowledge of basic Spanish greater than I had picked up as a kid on the playground. Learning medical vocabulary wasn’t going to be very helpful if I was ignorant of how to fit the words into sentences. Scratch that idea.

A different branch of the community college system offered a certification as a paralegal. Again, this seemed to offer a good working environment, etc., so I signed up. I enjoyed the courses until I got to one on legal research. I told my counselor, “Spending so much time in the stacks of the legal library sounds boring. I’m more of a people person. Is this course really a requirement?”

“Actually,” she replied, “if you become a paralegal, that’s what you will spend 90 percent of your time doing.” Scratch that idea.

My father had always regretted having to drop out of Harvard Business School, and he suggested I go for an MBA. Of course, I would need to take some basic business courses before applying to biz school, and again I turned to the local community colleges. I polished off a couple of basic accounting courses, a very useful course on tax accounting and a couple of entry-level computer programming courses.

My kids by now were nearly ready for K-6 schooling, and I felt I really needed to get a job. I saw a “Help Wanted” ad in my local news weekly for a “part-time job, could lead to full time. Ideal for someone returning to work world. Knowledge of basic accounting, income tax preparation, basic COBOL computer programming all big pluses.” This job as marketing manager for a small income-tax software company was tailor-made for me and my recent slate of community college courses.

So it wasn’t my two degrees from a prestigious private college that launched my successful 30-year career in tech sales and marketing, but rather my third stab at a vocational certificate through my local community college.

Over the years, I have taken a number of other community college courses, and been dismayed at how the cost per unit has escalated as the system struggles with loss of property-tax revenue. How could someone like me afford two false starts at a community college before finally finding the right niche, when the cost of a single course was in triple digits?

That’s why I was excited to read that effective Oct. 13, California joined New York and Rhode Island in making the first year of community college tuition-free for residents who are full-time students. Although I personally won’t qualify for this opportunity, it definitely will open doors for people who are in the situation I occupied all those years back.

Per an Oct. 4 article in the Town Crier, our local Foothill-De Anza Community College District is already preparing to implement and augment this opportunity with a College Promise program offering supplementary assistance for costs of textbooks and transportation for high school students enrolling at Foothill or De Anza for college credit. Foothill College President Thuy Thi Nguyen will be promoting the program at a number of public events over the next months. If you are a high school student, know a high school student or are simply interested in the latest frontiers of education, take a peek through this open door.

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