New backpacks and new clothes-the ritual of back to school is playing out all over the country. But in Santa Barbara, it’s always time to go back to school. It’s part of our city’s unique culture: We love our food and wine, we love our land and sea, and we love to learn.

That’s largely thanks to the Continuing Education Division of Santa Barbara City College, which has grown in the past 79 years into one of the nation’s top adult education programs. Known around town as Adult Ed, the division began in 1918 when English classes were needed to help waves of immigrants with their citizenship process. And while ESL (English as a Second Language) is still offered today, it’s just one of 830 classes available to the more than 44,000 Santa Barbara County residents who enroll annually. From the Mind/Supermind series and GED classes to landscape painting and an intro to the iPod, there’s no limit to learning in Santa Barbara. It really comes down to, what would you like to know?

Given such popularity, it’s astonishing to realize that Adult Ed has had to fight for its existence several times. In earlier decades, some state senators were actually opposed to adult education and sought to eliminate funding. Then the John Birch Society complained about sex education classes for parents in the 1960s, and raised a furor over a course titled “What One Must Know About Communism” during the Cold War days.

Despite such protests, the overwhelming interest in that course confirmed that Adult Ed was filling a need for education beyond traditional coursework. And it’s continued to occupy that special niche, “providing opportunities on the growing edge of knowledge,” as Selmer O. Wake, dean emeritus and former director of the foundation for SBCC, wrote in his memoirs. Not-for-credit classes, forums, and lectures are free to flourish outside the boundaries and politics of academia, with a pure objective of learning for the love of it.

Where else could you turn to have a magic makeover before taking Norwegian, developing your intuition, or writing your first novel? (Remember to save time for gentle bioenergetics.) There’s certainly a fun factor in pursuing personal development amid other spirited learners, which makes Adult Ed quite the place to meet like-minded souls and make new friends. Sophocles and his students likely felt the same camaraderie, philosophizing under the olive tree, only now we have a few more centuries of knowledge to pack in. So you’d best sign up for more than one course at a time.

Young and old take advantage of the nearly free classes, which convene all year in two main locations: the Schott Center at 310 West Padre Street and the Wake Center at 300 North Turnpike Road. (Some classes are held elsewhere, including Carpinteria.) Some courses assist those seeking a career change or wanting to hone their skills, and others address the desire to paint, weave, buy antiques, learn about architecture, understand personal finance, speak a foreign language, study cuisine, exercise better, comprehend computers, or develop an Internet-based business.

The fall term begins September 10 and runs for 10 weeks. Registration takes place the first day of class.


For more information and to sign up for one of the 800 classes in SBCC’s Continuing Education program-aka Adult Ed-go to For more Adult Education features, check out


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