Katie Redding
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

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February 18, 2009
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Rethinking careers during a recession leads some to CMC

ASPEN " These days, Colorado Mountain College career counselor Susan Shipp gets a call a day from Aspen job seekers looking for advice.

"I am 10 times busier with people coming to see me for career counseling than I was last year," she said.

It didn't use to be that way: Two years ago, her predecessor, Joe Maestas, got one or two such calls a semester.

Shipp provides career counseling for current or future CMC students at the Aspen campus. In the current economic downturn, that service is becoming increasingly popular.

"I have 30-, 40-, 50-year-olds who are coming back to start their education, to progress toward a new career, or try something they've thought of for many years, and now seems like the time," she said.

Real estate agents come to see her after their offices have closed, she said. Construction workers call to say that their project is going to end and they need options.

"Typically, community colleges do really well when the economy does poorly," she said. "It's a great time to go back to school, to keep acquiring new skills while you're waiting for things to shift."

The Aspen branch of CMC saw a 10 percent increase in students last fall, compared to 2007 an 8 percent increase this spring, according to statistics from the college. That's compared to a 4 percent decrease in 2007-8 and a 5 percent increase the year before.

System-wide, 2008-9 attendance saw a 5 percent increase.

"I'm anticipating this is the beginning of the wave," said Maestas, now chief executive officer of the Aspen campus.

Aspen architect John Ott, 49, decided to go back to school when business slowed, he said.

On Tuesday, Ott was learning to use the bookkeeping software QuickBooks in a class at the Aspen CMC campus. It's the second CMC computer class he has taken recently.

Especially when times get lean, said Ott, one wants more skills " either to be more valuable in an existing job or to look for a new one.

David Franklin, 57, a self-employed finish carpenter, was also learning QuickBooks now that he has some time on his hands.

"I'm catching up on all this stuff I've been intending to do," he said. "In a way, I am working. Once I get back to work, [these skills] should help out."

Thirty-one-year-old Susan Glah was enrolled in the class because she has been doing some bookkeeping for her brother's company while she looks for a job. Glah once worked in marketing for The New York Times and Time magazine, she said. Then she took a year off " and moved to Aspen just as the economy tightened.

"I've been on a spiritual journey," she said, wryly. "This is not where I expected to end up " in an accounting class."

Not only are workers seeking career training, but the campus has seen more "traditional students," lately, according to CMC spokeswoman Debbie Crawford. In years past, the Aspen campus appealed largely to lifelong learners, she said " people who wanted to take ceramics, or learn about Shakespeare.

But this year's students are demanding more traditional classes, she said. In fact, the college recently converted one of its photography studios to a science lab, because of increased demand for more traditional classes.

"What I'm hearing, anecdotally, is that parents can't afford to send [students] to four-year schools," said Maestas.

Yampah High School graduate Clayton Brooks, 18, said he just didn't want to waste all his money right now attending a pricier college. It's a decision he's glad he made, he said, especially as he watches some of his friends return from more expensive universities.

Juan Garcia, 24, who returned to the CMC after attending an art college in New Jersey, has mixed emotions. While he appreciates the opportunity to attend the college, he said, he really wants to move on to the San Francisco Academy of Art. But he has already been turned down once for more student loans.

"I do feel good about being here," said Garcia. "At the same time, I feel kind of trapped ... because of the recession ... that I can't go where I really want to go."

To gear up for the community's new needs, CMC is adding programs " particularly training in recession-proof fields, say campus executives.

At the Roaring Fork campus, for example, the college recently added a medical assistant program. And by this summer, the Aspen campus plans to add a sustainability program, anticipating that some of the new local jobs created in the downturn will be in green technology, sustainable design or sustainable development.

At 9 a.m. on Thursday, at Aspen Community Church, CMC administrators will join with other local agencies for a forum on Aspen residents' needs during the recession.

Once the college hears the community's education needs in the recession, said Maestas, it will work on meeting them.

kredding@aspentimes.com

This correction was published Feb. 19:

A story in Wednesday's Aspen Times titled "Rethinking careers during a recession leads some to CMC" incorrectly listed some student statistics. In 2006-'07 academic year, the CMC saw a 4.8 percent increase, but in the 2007-08 school year, it saw a 4.4 percent decrease. Campuswide, numbers were effectively flat for the 2009 spring semester, but there was a 5 percent increase in the fall 2008 semester. Also, the Spring Valley campus began a program to train medical assistants this spring; a nursing program already exists at the campus.


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The Aspen Times Updated Feb 18, 2009 07:21AM Published Feb 18, 2009 01:33AM Copyright 2009 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.