Take advantage of San Mateo County’s new free college program and learn about the history of video games, interior design or magic and witchcraft.

Cañada College’s kinesiology and wellness building in Redwood City. (Photo courtesy Cañada College)

For the first time, the San Mateo Community College District has waived the tuition and enrollment costs for all of its classes this spring as part of a new pilot program for county residents. The district includes three community colleges: Cañada College in Redwood City, College of San Mateo and Skyline College in San Bruno. Classes start Jan. 17. 

The community college district is the only one in the state offering free tuition for San Mateo County residents. The new fee reduction is the result of legislation from state Sen. Josh Becker, Senate Bill 893, which was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September. The bill waives the normal statewide $46 per credit enrollment fees for community college classes for San Mateo County residents only – partly because it is an area with such a high cost of living, Bay City News reported. Additionally, students with demonstrated financial need can also be exempt from having to pay other fees and supply costs. There are an estimated 6,000 students who stand to benefit from waiving the enrollment fees.

“It is my hope that this bill will help families use community college as a stepping stone to improving their economic mobility and their future,” Becker said in a press statement. 

So far, the cost reduction has boosted student enrollment by about 13% compared with a year ago, according to San Mateo County Community College District spokesperson Ana Maria Pulido. 

And for other county residents not looking to nab a career certification, the biggest perk of free tuition and enrollment may be the ability to access the colleges’ gyms by just signing up for a couple of classes.

By taking just six credits or more – the equivalent of about two classes – county residents are eligible for the district’s student rates at its two top-tier athletic facilities at Cañada College and College of San Mateo. 

For students 18 and up, the first two months of gym membership are free, and for students who check in 15 times per month, the gym membership is entirely free. If students visit less than 15 times a month, the fee is $15 per month, according to Pulido. Otherwise, the fees for community members are about $72 a month with additional enrollment fees. 

Cañada College’s kinesiology and wellness building in Redwood City. (Photo courtesy Cañada College)

And the gyms are beautifully maintained. At Cañada’s new athletic center – visible from Highway 280 as the giant glowing, modern-looking building on the hill near the Farm Hill Road exit – there are two outdoor pools, classrooms and rows of cardio equipment and weights looking out into the Santa Cruz Mountains. Reservations are required for group exercise classes, swimming lanes and pickleball courts, but as of mid-January, few gym classes or pool sessions had reached full enrollment numbers. Additional discounts are available for San Mateo County school employees. 

I scoured the course catalogs to find some of the most interesting courses on offer this semester and compiled my top 20 for your consideration. Access the full catalog here. (Note: Some courses may have fees associated with digital textbook access and other campus fees. Many are offered online.) 

20 interesting classes offered this spring in San Mateo County:

American Sign Language, College of San Mateo

“A beginning course designed to introduce students to the visual-gestural richness of American Sign Language as it is used within the Deaf culture. Introduces students to ASL’s basic structure and vocabulary while developing students’ expressive skills and understanding of fingerspelling and basic conversational strategies. Provides an introduction to the Deaf community and culture. Equivalent to two years of high school ASL.”

The Anthropology of Death, Skyline College

“Examination of cross-cultural perspectives on beliefs and practices around death and dying. Selected topics may include funerary practices, cannibalism, bereavement and concepts of the afterlife.”

Art History Goes to the Movies, Cañada College 

“A cultural and historical survey of great masters of art history, and how their creative process is depicted in film. This course includes the unique political, social, economic, and religious environment of artists in their age, and how this shaped the forms and ideas of their art. The depiction of the historic setting, demonstrations of the artists at work, and re-creation of the artistic milieu of the time through film illustrates the process of artistic production and creativity.”

California History, Skyline College

“The history of California from the Indian period to the present. Topics to include the social, economic, political, and cultural development of the state. Emphasis on contemporary California.”

“Composition, Literature and Critical Thinking” with novelist Emil DeAndreis, College of San Mateo

“This course is designed to promote critical thinking about diverse social, historical, and cultural contexts through inquiry into literature. As part of this inquiry, students will engage with distinctively literary ways of exploring human experience. Writing a minimum of 5000 words of finished prose, students will learn to articulate their own views in a meaningful conversation between themselves and the literature. All course sections, each with its own theme, will explore poetry, drama, and fiction.”

Creativity and Innovation in Entrepreneurship, Skyline College

“Emphasis on creativity and innovation as a strategic process. Includes the role of risk-taking in entrepreneurship, opportunities that lead to successful business ventures and the examination of personality traits of successful entrepreneurs. For potential or present entrepreneurs with no prior business experience.” Skyline College. 

Electronic Music, College of San Mateo

“Learn to create, produce and record music in a variety of genres using current music technology. Gain hands-on experience in electronic music studio techniques including: digital recording, audio editing, signal processing, mixing, sampling, MIDI, synthesizers and drum machines. Acquire a historic perspective of the development of electronic music and an understanding of acoustics as applied to music production. Develop your listening skills and your appreciation for a wide variety of electronic music and for the world of sound. Great introductory course for aspiring singer/ songwriters, musicians, composers, producers, sound designers and sound artists. No previous musical experience necessary.”

Filipinos in America, Skyline College

“A historical and cultural survey of Filipinos in America from early settlements in Louisiana, Hawaii and the West Coast to the present. Emphasis will be on a critical evaluation of the main social, political, economic, cultural, intellectual and historical trends that shaped the various Filipino communities in the United States.”

General Paleontology, College of San Mateo

“The origin and evolution of the planet and life on earth through the past 4.6 billion years. Includes the study of fossils, rocks, geologic time, dating methods, evolution by natural selection, modern and ancient ecosystems, plate tectonics, speciation and mass extinction.”

History of Video Games, Cañada College

“Explores the origin and history of ancient to modern games including board games, card games, arcade amusements, and video games of all kinds. Includes game companies, historic platforms, and common jargon used in the industry.”

Introduction to Astronomy, Cañada College

“Survey of modern astronomy: study of what our civilization knows about the universe and our place in it, including the Earth-Moon system, the Solar System, extrasolar planetary systems, the birth and death of stars, the Milky Way galaxy, and cosmology. Emphasis is also placed on how astronomers learn about the universe, such as the nature of light, telescopes, and the scientific method.”

Intro to Video Game Design, Cañada College 

Introduction to the essentials of game design using industry-standard game engine, spreadsheets, presentation slides, photo editing, 3D modeling, and reference art to convey game design ideas and specifications. Practical application of skills learned to develop games.”

Intro to Interior Design, Cañada College 

“Examination of the interior built environment with emphasis on residential design. The elements and principles of design along with historical and cultural influences are examined as they relate to the functional and aesthetic aspects of interior spaces. Students develop skills in critical analysis of interiors and create individual solutions through design projects.”

Magic, Witchcraft and Religion, Skyline College

“Cross-cultural exploration of the supernatural belief systems, focusing on non-literate, tribal and ethnic cultures; history and methods of the anthropological approach to religion; the dynamics of myth, magic, totem, taboo, cults, and sects.”

Oceanography, College of San Mateo

“Introduction to marine geology, chemistry, and biology. Includes the hydrologic cycle and properties of sea water and marine organisms; currents, waves, tides, coastal processes, and ecology of the ocean; continental drift; and sea-floor spreading.”

Plein-Air Painting, College of San Mateo 

“Students will learn the art of plein air by painting landscapes at various outdoor locations as well as attending lectures, demos and working on projects in the studio. All painting mediums are welcome. Students are responsible for their own transportation.”

Public Speaking, Cañada College 

“Provides a practical and theoretical introduction to the fundamental principles of public speaking through an audience-centered approach, and a forum for practicing public speaking skills. Students discover, develop, and criticize ideas in public discourse through research, reasoning, organization, composition, presentation, and evaluation of various types of speeches, including informative and persuasive speeches. Critical thinking & listening skills are realized through speaker and audience analysis. Speeches are delivered in both impromptu (spontaneous) and extemporaneous (prepared) modes.”

Self-Defense, Skyline College

A beginning level course designed to teach the principles and skills of self-defense. Areas covered will be mental preparation, avoidance of situations conducive to assault, punching, kicking, pressure points and defenses. Includes instruction in both non-violent and violent defenses.

Stress Management, Cañada College 

“The stress process and its relation to health and disease, lifestyle, and the sociocultural environment. Analysis of physiological, psychological, sociological, and environmental parameters of stress, emphasizing development of personalized stress management strategies to enhance academic, personal, and social development across the lifespan.”

Zoology, College of San Mateo

“Introduction to principles of animal biology Includes molecular basis of life, structure, function and behavior as seen in invertebrates and vertebrates; ecology; zoogeography and animal evolution. One or more field trips may be required. Extra supplies may be required.”

Kate Bradshaw

Kate Bradshaw

Kate Bradshaw reports food news and feature stories all over the Peninsula, from south of San Francisco to north of San José. Since she began working with Embarcadero Media in 2015, she's reported on everything from Menlo Park's City Hall politics to Mountain View's education system. She has won awards from the California News Publishers Association for her coverage of local government, elections and land use reporting.

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