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San Diego Continuing Education

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Adult Education in San Diego Leads Statewide Conversation to Improve and Innovate

Adult students demand different approaches to teaching and learning. San Diego Continuing Education (SDCE), the largest noncredit adult education organization in the state, recommends promoting and increasing distance education courses, developing state funding streams and integrating workforce development to support the educational demands of adults who need alternatives to traditional delivery modes.

“Providing accessible distance education is critical for working adult students in jobs or in the military,” said Michelle Fischthal, Dean of Institutional Effectives at SDCE. “Distance or online education allows students to benefit from education that fits around real-word adult schedules.”

Making online class options available and accessible is just one of several recommendations SDCE is making to statewide communities that are either building or expanding adult education systems in California, largely through community college districts.

The recommendations are supported by research conducted in partnership with the California Community College Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO Educational Resources) and published in a comprehensive report, The Past, Present and Future of Noncredit Education in California.

‘Noncredit instruction’ and ‘adult education’ are often used interchangeably. Students enrolled in noncredit classes do not typically earn college credit toward a degree, but they do earn knowledge, skills and confidence by completing classes designed to continue learning throughout all ages of life. In some circumstances, at SDCE, noncredit students can earn college credit through credit-by-exam agreements, which can allow college credit for some noncredit coursework successfully completed as part of a certificate program. SDCE awarded 9,522 certificates of completion in academic year 2016-17, more than any other noncredit adult education organization in the state.

Many California residents are not aware of noncredit instruction, nor do they understand the classes are free and part of the public education system in the state. SDCE hopes to increase awareness and promote the public education opportunities to adults in every community. Data supports significant increases in median annual salaries upon completion of certificates.

“An infrastructure for funding outreach programs at the state level is critical to making education accessible,” said Carlos O. Turner Cortez, Ph.D., President of SDCE and co-author of the report. “Implementing a dedicated funding stream for targeted outreach to veterans, adults with disabilities, ex-offenders, the marginally housed, immigrants and the unemployed is an example of support that could ensure noncredit programs serve the most vulnerable residents in San Diego.”

Strengthening partnerships with regional workforce development boards will also increase awareness and relevance for adult education. SDCE has recently collaborated with the San Diego Workforce Partnership (SDWP) to provide paid job internships, career development coaching, and free educational software to SDCE students through a new initiative called Tech/Hire.

The recommendations were presented during a statewide conference for noncredit administrators, and educators: The New World of Noncredit, hosted by IEPI (Institutional Effectiveness Partnership Initiative) and SDCE on October 6 and 7 in San Diego. More than 200 leaders and change-makers from around the state attended from 60 California community colleges, associations and the state Chancellor’s Office to hear best practices on how to build and expand noncredit instruction in the state.

“The conference provided a venue for the great noncredit work happening in the state to support the success of the most disadvantaged adults in our communities,” said Fischthal. “It also generated excitement for the recognition noncredit is gaining in the California Community College system through the advocacy work of so many.”

The Past, Present and Future of Noncredit Education in California includes an abbreviated 161-year history of adult education in California, baseline data, survey results and the recommendations for the future of noncredit adult education research and practice to inform state enhancements in support of noncredit program growth. The report is gaining awareness and is used as required reading in UC Berkeley's designated subjects for career technical education and adult education credential programs.

Conference Photos


San Diego Continuing Education is the adult education division of the San Diego Community College District. It was one of the first community college continuing education institutions in California to meet the standards for independent accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. More than 40,000 students are served per academic year at seven main campuses in San Diego. Noncredit classes are available at no cost, including online options.

Classes are free because San Diego Continuing Education is part of the California system of higher education. Funding also comes through business and industry partnerships. Learn more at