At the medical and nursing assistant classes run by the Mountain View-Los Altos Adult School, the impact of the recession is clear: Ask the students who has recently been laid off and hands shoot up around the room.
And while many agree that losing a job pushed them toward a career shift, the students have high hopes and ambitions for their futures in the field of medicine.
"I had been a private caregiver for 10 years, and my client passed away," said Mountain View resident Carmen Martinez, a student in the Certified Nursing Assistant program. "I had been certified before, but my license expired; with my license not up to date I can't go to a hospital or agency to look for a job."
"I need to make more money and there are no jobs in my area," said Gilberto Soza of San Jose, who was laid off from a retail position. He added, "I like helping people, and I like medicine."
In the medical assistant class, students prepare for work in hospitals, clinics and private practices. They practice taking vital signs, drawing blood and other essential skills.
Mountain View resident Deseree Williams works as a substitute teacher at a local day care center, but decided she needed to commit to something more long-term. She was drawn to medicine because, she said, her father died of a heart attack when she was young.
"You want a permanent career," said Williams, who is training to become a medical assistant. "In the medical field, there's always an opportunity no matter where you go. People always need health care and health care professionals."
"I think that's why everyone's here for a secure job," she said.
The local high school district's Adult School classes cost between $550 and $750 thousands of dollars less than private vocational programs.
"We try to keep ours low-cost for the students," said Brenda Harris, assistant director of the Adult School. "In this economy, people have trouble affording the $550."
Maintaining the program has been a priority for the Adult School, even though it had to cut more than $1 million from its budget last year and faces more cuts this year.
"I decided to take the course through Mountain View because it's less expensive than other programs," said Andrea Johnson, of Sunnyvale. "When you have three kids, economy matters."
Johnson said she has been out of the workforce for seven years to take care of her children, including a son with special needs. She had been a nursing assistant before, but needed to renew her certification. Her goal is to eventually become a registered nurse.
"We know right now that health care is a fast growing field," Harris said. She said many students use the nursing and medical assistant courses as a stepping-stone into medical careers.
"We want to train people and give them a new opportunity and give them a better financial status to help their families," she said.