AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week “You know that you can become someone else if you just do it,” she said, holding a winter 2006 schedule in hand. Inside the more than 1,200 community colleges nationwide, enrollment has been on a high and continues to grow inside most classrooms. Lower tuition rates have traditionally made the schools attractive alternatives to universities for the first few years spent earning a degree. Average annual tuition at a community college is $2,000, according to the National Association of Community Colleges, a Washington, D.C.,-based organization representing more than 1,200 colleges annually. Tuition is the main reason Lindy Giammichele attends College of the Canyons. She’s undecided on a career and is taking classes at the community college until she knows what she wants to focus on. “It’s less expensive than other schools, and I don’t know what I want to major in,” she said. SANTA CLARITA – Her job in the radiology department was stable and paid the bills, but Nancy Clark-Hernandez wanted more than the black-and-white life she found with X-rays. So, last year, the 37-year-old mother went back to school and loaded up on weekend courses and other classes at College of the Canyons. Come December, she’ll have enough credits for a certificate to teach preschool. It’s the career she’s always wanted, and, as she says, it’s a second chance at life. The Canyon Country resident is among a growing number of people returning to school for career changes – one of the top reasons enrollment at community colleges is flourishing nationwide. Tuition prices also led Chris Hudson to the same tree-lined campus. Although he’s still in high school, the 17-year-old is taking three courses at the college this semester to get a jump start on his degree. “It’s the most affordable place for me,” the Canyon Country resident said. But the economy also drives enrollment figures – most often when the dollar is sluggish and people lose jobs. Many return to school to earn skills that will help them gain employment or land new careers, said Norma Kent, American Association of Community Colleges vice president of communications. Growth inside community colleges boomed during the 1960s, when many of these facilities first started appearing in sleepy towns and on city streets. Enrollment eventually stabilized, but it typically hasn’t declined much, except in areas such as Louisiana and Mississippi that have been hit by destruction, Kent said. But job training also keeps class lists full at community colleges, since many are responding to the needs of the neighborhoods they serve. Construction classes, for example, are more frequently seen in areas with new and upcoming developments. Locally, more law enforcement officials are making their way these days to College of the Canyons than ever before for a training program. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Los Angeles Police Department are hiring now and putting officers through academies that are run through agreements with the college, said Barry Gribbons, vice president of institutional development and online services. And they are adding to the number students at the Rockwell Canyon Road institution, where classes first started in 1969. In 1997, enrollment at the school was about 7,430. Seven years later, the student population almost doubled with about 14,200 in attendance for fall semester, Gribbons said. About 120 full-time faculty members have been added to the campus during the past eight years, said Dianne Van Hook, College of the Canyons president. Figures aren’t in yet for student enrollment this semester, but school officials estimate that it will blossom 10 percent each year. Local businesses contribute to some of that growth, because they send employees to the school to improve office skills, such as with computer classes, that will make them more productive. Gribbons also attributed the healthy enrollment to the flexible schedules offered, such courses offered online and on Saturdays. The school also has a five-week intersession between fall and spring semesters with more than 200 classes on the schedule. That type of scheduling helps Clark-Hernandez complete her associate’s degree while raising her 5-year-old daughter. She plans to take more courses on weekends, since her days will be filled with work teaching preschool. When finished, she wants to go to California State University, Northridge, or the University of California, Los Angeles, for her bachelor’s degree. “It’s so much nicer to go back to work like this, because it’s for a career that I decided that I’d become,” Clark-Hernandez said. Sue Doyle, (661) 257-5254 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!