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Workers seek new skills at community colleges, but classes are full

"It's a personal tragedy for someone seeking the skills to become a nurse or a firefighter or whatever it may be," said California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott. "But in the long run, it's a tragedy for the economy."

Here in Las Vegas, with among some of the nation's highest unemployment, the College of Southern Nevada last fall turned away 5,000 students who sought classes that were filled.

For a single biology class, "BIO 189," a prerequisite for most of the degrees in the popular health-care fields, more than 2,450 students applied for 950 seats. The college now turns away students from every class in biology, the physical sciences and math, said Sally Johnston, dean of the School of Science and Mathematics at the College of Southern Nevada.

"Unfortunately, many say the heck with it and walk away," President Michael D. Richards said.

A reshaped economy

In Las Vegas, as well as nationally, some of the most overgrown portions of the bubble economy will not need as many workers as before, economists say, forcing workers to find jobs in other fields.

Here, it is the gambling and construction industries that have shrunk. Gambling revenue remains down about 15 percent on the Strip, and the once-booming construction industry in Nevada, where more than 27,000 homes a year were being built, has ground to a halt. One condo-hotel project on the Strip, the Echelon, has been left an unfinished 12-story concrete shell.

For the workers affected, it was as if an era has ended.

"There were just no more tips," said Stephanie Stone, 27, a mother of three who was a cocktail server at the Palomino Club, a strip club. "And I've always wanted to be a nurse."

Eriqua Horgan, 26, who has worked in the nightclub business as well said that before the bust, people were buying $1,000 bottles of champagne. "Mortgage brokers, everybody wrapped up in the real estate business had money. Now. . .they're not buying anything," she said.

The reshaping of the economy here has pushed countless workers to community colleges where they hope to build a new career.

Among the most popular programs at the college here are those that offer immediate employment, such as in health care - respiratory therapy, ultrasound technology, dental hygienist - and some technical and accounting fields, college officials said.

The appeal of community colleges is also financial: At a time of rocketing college costs, community colleges have remained a bargain compared with four-year schools.

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