Course offers low-income students a chance
Venture » Program provides college-level courses for adults.
The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 10/21/2009 02:29:45 PM MDT
By Katie Drake
Sarah Schrock always hated school.
Her anxiety disorder made her feel physically ill during class, leaving her unable to focus on the material.
So Schrock's family is delighted the 27-year-old is considering going back to college, with eight free credits from the Venture Course in Humanities.
The program provides low-income adults the chance to take college-level courses for free, and earn credit in the process.
The program is the brainchild of Jean Cheney, associate director of the Utah Humanities Council, who also teaches the writing course. She believes education is transformational, and no one should be denied access to the world's great artists and thinkers based on income.
Professors from the University of Utah and Westminster College teach art history, literature, writing, history and philosophy to students, many of whom have never attended college. Others, like Schrock, use the course as a stepping stone to higher education.
Because they are not receiving a degree, Venture students tend to be more passionate about their classwork, said Jennifer Bauman, who teaches the art history portion. The student population tends to be richer in life experience than a typical college class, and Bauman finds herself observing new aspects of works she has seen thousands of times.
"We all share a great passion, all of us teachers, and it is reciprocated by the students," Bauman said. "It's just a jolly good time."
Students must meet several standards to qualify for the course. They must make below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, be at least 18, able to read a newspaper in English and not have a college degree.
Students must also commit to the four hours of class time each week, as well as about four hours of homework, Cheney said.
Some, like Isabel Vega, struggle to meet the requirements and attend class each week.
Vega is a native Spanish speaker, and still struggles to take notes in English, translating in her head as she goes. She sees the course as a proving ground to see if she can handle college-level classwork. She holds an associate's degree in business in her native Uruguay, and hopes to get her bachelor's degree.
Others, like Karl Donaldson, took the course looking to gain a specific skill. He hopes to write a memoir, but knew he needed help with writing. He loves the friendly and nonjudgmental atmosphere and feels free to express himself.
For students like Schrock, that atmosphere is the best thing about Venture. The thought of coming to class no longer makes her ill, and she has high hopes to finish the degree she started so long ago.