Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will speak at the School of Extended Education's June 2 commencement ceremony, the final such event for the financially troubled program. About 280 people will graduate with degrees or certificates in law studies, management, leadership and dance.
Although a Schwarzenegger spokesman said the governor wants to show his support for continuing education, which focuses on working adults, the governor also has another reason for attending the Moraga event: His chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, will graduate with a bachelor's degree in management.
St. Mary's administrators decided to go all out for the extended-education school's final hurrah, said Robert Henderson, the school's operations director.
"We extended an offer to the governor's office, and he accepted," Henderson said. "This is such a big occasion for us that we thought he would be a good choice."
Grand though it may be, the event will be bittersweet for St. Mary's.
The school, which offered classes online and at sites across Northern California, increasingly fell short in competition with other colleges aimed at working adults, such as the for-profit University of Phoenix. Administrators said they were not able to spend as much on marketing as their competitors, and faculty members worried the school was draining money away from traditional St. Mary's programs.
About 1,000 students were enrolled when St. Mary's trustees voted in 2005 to gradually shut down the program, but class sizes had dropped so much that it became difficult to afford teaching and classroom costs, college leaders said. The 2005 decision came shortly after a Denver-based school, Regis University, declined to take over management of the St. Mary's program.
A handful of students who have a few classes remaining will be allowed to finish their degrees, Henderson said. Most of the approximately 50 employees have left or have been transferred to other college positions or laid off. Two programs -- offering a master's degree in leadership and a bachelor's degree in dance -- are transferring elsewhere in the college.
The governor will make the rare commencement speech because continuing education is near and dear to him, said his spokesman, Aaron McLear.
"The governor actually went through these types of programs" in Austria, Wisconsin and Santa Monica, McLear said. His St. Mary's appearance "speaks highly of the college and for his affinity for these programs."
College leaders are hoping Schwarzenegger receives a better reception at St. Mary's than at his last commencement address, in 2005 at his alma mater, Santa Monica College. Several students and professors booed the governor at that ceremony.
"We're really just hoping for the best," Henderson said. "We really can't predict what will happen."
Matt Krupnick covers higher education. Reach him at 925-943-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org.