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Finding a fresh path

College Prep course smooths transition for those upgrading resume for job market

Dianna Nemitz had worked at Spokane’s Columbia Lighting Inc. for more than 30 years when the company closed its doors last March. At 52, she was not old enough to retire. Going back to college for a degree and a shot at a second career seemed like the best plan. But that route seemed overwhelming until she heard about Community Colleges of Spokane’s College Prep course.

The $25 non-credit course prepares students for college-level math, college-level English and writing and basic computer skills. The course also helps with financial aid applications and career counseling.

It’s ideal for people who want to go back to school or who have completed their GEDs and want to continue their education, said Jenny Houck, the lead College Prep instructor.

Enrollment began Thursday for January’s classes, including a new online course.

People often go back to school for job retraining during economic downturns, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.

Nemitz heard about the course from her former co-workers. At least 20 of them have also taken it, she said.

Dorn Dunn and Linda Schultz are enrolled in the course with Nemitz this term. Like her, they are looking to go in a new direction. Dunn blew out both his knees doing construction work; Schultz decided after 30 years as a bartender she wanted a “real” career.

“The average age of our students this term is 35,” Houck said.

The College Prep course, first offered in summer 2005, is run through Community Colleges of Spokane’s Institute for Extended Learning. It has grown in popularity.

Instructors assess the students’ needs at the beginning of each term.

“If they haven’t yet decided a direction, then we help them with that,” Houck said. “Some come in who want a job in one or two years – their goal is to be retrained and get out into the job market. Others may want to pursue a four-year degree.”

The course then is divided into two groups depending on their math needs – applied math, such as measurement and statistics, or intermediate algebra. Math is a “big portion of the course,” Houck said, adding instructors try to teach the classes in a way that prepares students for the pace and demands of college math.

Meanwhile, the students also review English skills such as grammar and learn to write a research paper – many for the first time. Lessons on computer skills are incorporated into the course as much as possible, Houck said.

Vicki Jackson, a former College Prep student, is now taking college-credit classes at Spokane Community College and trying to get into the respiratory therapy program.

“It’s a great start for anyone who hasn’t been in school for a long time,” the 50-year-old said. In addition to giving her much-needed help with math, “it helped acclimate me to college life.”

Jackson is among the 150 students who have completed the program.

Houck said: “I get so many students coming back to tell me that if they hadn’t taken this, they’d be lost.”



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