The first thing that Steven France, director of Del Valle Education Center, wants people to learn this fall is that the Acalanes Adult Education program is open for business. Then he wants them to sign up for their favorite classes.

Last year things were not looking good for the district's popular adult ed program. But a combination of belt tightening, increased course fees, fundraising initiatives and other measures have afforded the 70-year-old program a one-year reprieve.

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"We will be fee-based primarily," says France, who succeeded longtime director Frank Acojido. "We've had to increase our fees an average of 25 percent and no longer can a class continue if enrollment means we're only breaking even."

After Gov. Jerry Brown's 2015-16 budget passed in June, it looked like the lifelong learning programs operating at the Tice Valley Boulevard campus and two off-site locations in Walnut Creek and Danville might be on the chopping block. A $500 million adult education grant to be divided among the state's community colleges and school districts funds only citizenship, basic skills and ESL courses, and technical education, apprenticeship and adults with disabilities programs. Popular lifelong learning classes such as "Landscape Painting" or "Stretch, Strength, Balance" and courses in computers, languages, cooking, communication, humanities and other areas are not supported.
Classes must now have a minimum of 15 students. France says office staff support was reduced, and the program's evening hours were cut by one-third. "We're open Wednesdays and Thursdays instead of three evenings per week to maximize and make sure we're using all the available space. We've not had to cut very many classes," he said.

The budget for Acalanes Adult Education programs for fiscal year 2015-16 is $627,151, $288,000 of which is for lifelong learning.

France says he's heartened by the fact that when media reports and word-of-mouth spread the news that the program would end, the reaction was immediate and strong.

"The former director galvanized the community to write letters to legislators. They expressed how closing the program would impact them," France, a former Acalanes School District administrator, said. "I find adult education remarkable. People want to continue learning, teachers want to help ESL students improve their language skills, adults want secondary education diplomas ... I've always been interested in teaching adults."

The program coordinator for adult education at Mount Diablo Unified School District said administrators in the Pleasant Hill-based program were proactive and began structural funding changes approximately three years ago.

"We began the very difficult task of transitioning our lifelong education classes from being state-supported to fee-based," said Judith Sosnowski. "We had a lot of resistance from students because they were used to paying very low fees. We lost students and teachers, but we're happy that now, we have a sustainable program."

MDUSD adult education also operates a Loma Vista campus in Concord that receives state funds, but district Secretary Denise Landry says those courses run separately because of the different funding streams.

Other adult education options in Contra Costa County are already entirely fee-based.
The Bernard Osher Foundation's "OLLI@Berkeley" offers six-week courses, weekly lectures and special community events, in Berkeley and Lafayette. Three membership tiers (Single Term, Annual and Premium) are priced at $50, $100 and $850, respectively.

Diablo Valley College's Emeritus College offers courses to adults that include Italian and French languages, music history, vineyard tours, psychology classes and special fundraiser concerts, among others. Fees range from approximately $18 to $70.

"Our expenses, instructor salaries, brochure printing, staff hours, mailing and supplies need to be covered by student fees and fundraisers. We receive no outside funding," says Director Debby Muskar.

Acalanes' program fees vary depending on the course. With this year's increase, one-day classes are $25, 10-day courses average about $120, and art classes for which materials are required are $150 to $170. World languages are among the most popular courses. With one year to prove viable, France says his "number one emphasis" is to tell people "We're ready to enroll, expand and support the community's further learning."

Acalanes adult education registration begins Aug. 17 at 8 a.m. for all classes.
Fall classes begin Sept. 4.

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