Market Value

    With the national unemployment rate at a staggering 16-year high of 7.2 percent, job seekers across the nation are looking for anything to give themselves a competitive edge — even if it means going back to school.

    That’s why UCSD Extension, the professional education and public-service division of UCSD, hasn’t been hurt by campuswide cuts. For many recent college graduates, it’s been a stepping stone — and resume booster — to better job prospects.

    Founded in 1966, UCSD Extension offers classes that focus on developing technical skills, aimed at fast-track students and developing adult professionals in San Diego. With 14 different areas of study — including digital arts, business, law, education and health care — Extension offers a more practical variety, compared to the “let there be light” academic focus of university curriculum, of in-class and online courses taught by experienced practitioners.

    By constantly updating its course offerings to keep up with trends in the job market — particularly in high-tech fields like information technology and software engineering — Extension has seen record-breaking enrollment over the last two years. Within the 2008-2009 academic year, enrollment increased 10 percent, jumping to 54,000 enrollees and 23,248 students in 4,663 courses.

    “In 2009, despite the weak economy, adult education was one of the two industries that actually went up,” Extension Assistant Dean for External Affairs Henry DeVries said. “People want to bridge to new careers or new areas of employment that are in higher demand.”

    In over 120 certificate programs, DeVries said students are able to explore specialized careers that UCSD curriculum often doesn’t cover, like copy editing, clinical trials and accounting. Upon completing a minimum of 20 units within one to two years, Extension students receive a certificate to verify their completion.

    “[Students] apply for certificate programs to gain extra skills,” DeVries said. “For instance, you might have a background in business or manufacturing, but not in biotechnology manufacturing. So, you might come to us to study for that, and then bridge to a career in that field.”

    A growing number of partnerships between Extension and professional industries have made the school’s certificates widely respected within the San Diego business community, according to DeVries. Many companies actually send their employees to Extension courses, all expenses paid.

    “Of the Extension students we have, about half of them are sent by their company,” DeVries said. “If you think of all the major companies — Qualcomm, Sony, Sempra Energy, PG&E — all of those companies are sending their employees to us.”

    After finding out about Extension classes through a co-worker, 2009 Warren College graduate April Harter took seven Extension classes, four of which were completed for her certificate in sustainable business practices. She took advantage of a program for full-time UCSD students called LAUNCH, in which juniors and senior take Extension classes concurrently with their academic classes and meet with a career mentor quarterly to discuss their aspirations

    “[Extension courses] were different than undergraduate classes because they were applied,” Harter said. “You could really do hands-on projects. We looked at case studies, worked in groups. We often had one or two large presentations to give in front of the class. So we really had to look at issues that we were discussing. And all of my courses — some were more in media, some in sustainability — headed back to the business curriculum.”

    Small class sizes also allowed Harter and Warren College Senior Dara Bu an opportunity to network with professors and business-professionals.

    “[Extension professors] are actively working in the field,” Harter said. “They’re very connected in the community; they’re involved in other organizations. So they’re very knowledgeable about events happing in the community. Different Extension professors might suggest us to go to these events — whether it [would be] in a chamber or a professional organization. It brings us places that aren’t strictly academic, but more professional.”

    Bu agreed, adding that the intimate environment made the experience of getting to know her professors less stressful than with university professors.

    “I felt a lot less pressure in this course,” Bu said. “My professor even hooked me up with an opportunity to write for [San Diego News Network] and attend the [Public Relations Society of America] conference. I’ve already asked him for a letter of recommendation.”

    Both Harter and Bu said they feel their time at Extension has given them a competitive edge in the workforce by adding extra skills to their resume. Harter, who now works as a director of social media for Scribe Communications, said earning her Extension certificate helped prepare her for the office environment.

    “Having the certificate has definitely helped me understand some of the choices and practices that our clients are making,” Harter said.

    However, a recent uprising of unhappy web-design students cast a shadow on Extension’s reputation.

    Last summer, Extension Digital Art Center graduate Kevin Root enrolled in a web-design class that would arouse controversy over Extension’s refund policy and its self-proclaimed commitment to serving the “critical lifelong knowledge and skill development needs of individuals, organizations and the community.”

    Last summer, 20 students signed a letter of complaint while 12 students, Root included, filed a formal grievance with the administration demanding a refund of a $6,750 enrollment fee. The students said they were demanding their money back because they felt the class had not adequately prepared them for a career in web design, as promised.

    The subjects of contention were instructors Harrison Watts who had left town for 20 days and attempted to teach the class via email and John Lane who allegedly relied on unclear, unconnected teaching methods.

    In response, Extension gave the students three choices: accept nine prepaid units of Extension courses, three months of online training worth $75 or six Saturdays of class-time learning in Flash design.

    “We listened to the students’ concerns about their lack of training and offered them opportunities for further education,” DeVries said in a Dec. 3 article in the Guardian. “The reparations the students were offered were very fair and reasonable.”

    At that time, only seven of the 12 students had accepted the university’s offer.

    Root and a few others however said they refused the three options because they did not provide the same depth and amount of instruction for which they had originally paid. Currently, Root is looking into pursuing legal action.

    “It’s pretty disappointing,” Root said. “I’m no closer to becoming a web designer than when I started Extension. I don’t really want to get burned again [by another program like Extension], so I’ll probably teach myself and hope I can figure it out along the way.”

    Although Root found the Digital Art Center program disappointing, he said doesn’t necessarily have a negative opinion of the entire Extension program.

    “I’m sure there are parts of Extension that are phenomenal, but I only know what I see,” Root said. “I probably would tell people [interested in Extension] to do a lot of research.”

    Though Root and his peers were heavily dissatisfied with their instruction, he said getting to know his fellow classmates was the most rewarding aspect of his time at Extension.

    “One shining part was that there were a lot of good people,” Root said. “Everyone in the class was really close, so we are really helpful with each other. My friend and I actually started our own little design firm.”

    Because Harter and Bu were both UCSD undergraduate students when taking Extension courses, the division gave them a voucher for complimentary enrollment. Worth $270, the voucher covers most, if not all, of the costs for one course. These vouchers are available at the Extension office every quarter to full-time UCSD students.

    “LAUNCH is really a lot of bang for your buck,” Harter said. “The certificate programs are really reasonable as well. It’s a lot cheaper than if a working adult wanted to do a certificate in the program. Some of my courses were worth $450, but I took four classes for $650.”

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