Merced College student Giuliana Orozco had a teenage son failing in school, one who liked challenging his high school dropout mother by saying, “You’re not doing anything about finishing. Why should I?”

Fear that her son would repeat her mistake, of quitting school at age 14, sent Orozco sprinting to Merced College to earn her GED at age 31.

Merced College program assistant Karla Narvaez-Flores, before moving to the U.S. for a new career, first asked for her grandmother’s blessing. The older woman told her, “Mija, I will let you go but, promise me, whatever you do, you will help your community.”

Wanting to make her proud, Narvaez-Flores eventually landed at Merced College, recruiting and nurturing students like Orozco, vocational trainees and senior citizens, via the Adult Education & Noncredit Program.

Merced College Director of Adult Education & Noncredit Program Jessica Moran didn’t know English when she started kindergarten. The stigma didn’t leave her for a long time. Even after mastering the language and becoming class valedictorian, she heard a classmate asking, “Jessica Moran? I didn’t even think she spoke English!”

The ignorant comment motivated Moran while she earned three degrees before landing at Merced College, passionately advocating and guiding students like her.

These people represent the future, the mission and the backbone of the Merced College Adult Ed and Noncredit Program. The program teaches people what they want and need to learn and that enriches all of Merced County.

“Our students are facing so many barriers when they come to us,” Moran says. “We have to be more touchy-feely. We have to understand what they need. Once we give them some confidence, students can shine on their own. That fuels me and, I hope, everyone to be here.”

To start, the Adult Ed & Noncredit courses are free, so they have no financial barrier. Merced College has been offering them in some form since 1968. You don’t earn credits, but can earn skills certificates and enrichment. The philosophy? Everyone benefits when community members continue to learn.

Moran said the College itself benefitted when it was recently able to earn “medium to big” community college status, which comes with more state money, The robust Adult Ed and Noncredit population was big enough to push the campus into the higher bracket.

The program’s anchor courses are English as a Second Language—the College added four offsite options this fall. Punjabi, Hmong, Mandarin and Spanish speakers all learn the language together.

 But adult education is more than learning English. Whatever your hold-up is, Moran and company work to lift barriers and direct people to the right resources.

 “It takes so much just to pick up the phone to make that first call,” Moran said. “They’re starting from scratch and you sense that hesitation. You become a counselor on that first call, encouraging them and guiding them to what you hope they do here at MC.”

 Narvaez-Flores approaches potential Adult Ed & Noncredit students with the same question, “When was the last time you did something for the very first time?”

 “They look at me with open eyes, and then I start promoting the classes,” she said. “If you haven’t done something for the first time in a while, these classes are a good opportunity to start.”

 The beauty of the Adult Ed & Noncredit program is that it hits every goal in the Merced College mission statement—pushing Career Technical Education (e.g., truck driver training begins in 2020); lifelong learning (e.g., mature driver training); basic skills (e.g., ESL, math) and transfer preparation (e.g., non-credit students upgrading to full-credit courses.)

 The College’s Adult Ed and Noncredit program is entering a new phase after a recent, and full, curriculum review of every course helped clarify student needs. This program faces the same constraints as the rest of the campus: limited space on campus.

 Where do you put everyone who wants to learn? There are so many like Orozco, who thought every seat was taken, and every door to her closed, after she dropped out of high school to have her son.

 Orozco climbed that emotional barrier, with help from instructor Jo Ann Melo, when she enrolled at Merced College in January 2018 and passed her four GED tests by May 2018. She now works as an insurance agent and runs her a cake-making business. Now she wants to take classes that would help with her baking startup.

 She offers wonderful advice to anyone now standing in her old shoes.

 “There are no closed doors,” Orozco said. “There is always an open door waiting for you to walk through.”