The Bay's most innovative degrees show the way to the future
CAREERS AND ED You don't need a degree, or even the patience to sift through US Census Bureau reports on educational attainment, to know that each year this nation graduates more students from institutions of higher ed — public and private universities, colleges, junior colleges, and professional schools — than it did the year before. San Francisco is second only to Seattle in the number of papered persons running around, and statistics say that they, in turn, are more likely to raise little educational overachievers of their own. With this glut of matriculation on the horizon, it's hard not to ponder the degree programs of the future: an associate's in astrotourism? A bachelor's of biosynthetic anatomy? A PhD of P4TA? (That's "preparing for the apocalypse" for the cyber-stupid.) Hard to say. But before we get carried away, here's a sampling of programs fit for a brave new world that can be found in the here and now.
California South Bay University sits smack-dab in the center of Silicon Valley, so it's no surprise that the offerings are high-tech. The larger California zeitgeist seems to be rolling in on the San Francisco fog, though, and interesting patterns — like a master's of science in green energy technology — have emerged. But the university really takes advantage of the Santa Clara Valley sunshine (and billowing demand for sustainable energy) with its Interstate Renewable Energy Council-accredited certificate program in solar photovoltaics, the science of connecting the two. If a full-fledged degree isn't in your forecast, the school offers two 40-hour courses that might be a perfect fit.
California South Bay University, 1107 North Fair Oaks, Sunnyvale. (408) 400-9008, www.csbu.us 
Degrees in video-game design and Web programming are old hat, but California College of the Arts takes the idea of the user interface beyond the screen, and plugs it back into real life. The school's focus on design that users can interact with includes classes on platforms from cell phone to sculpture, game console to gallery, preparing students to "create meaningful and innovative designed experiences in the realms of work, lifestyle, and play." Vague? Yes. Useful? Possibly. That three-dimensional holographic surround-sound computer interface that Tom Cruise uses in Minority Report? Get your virtual-reality gloves out 'cause it's on its way ...
California College of the Arts, 1111 Eighth St., SF. 1-800-477-1278, www.cca.edu 
Horticulture goes high-tech at Merritt College. The school claims to have all the most up-to-date equipment in the field, and with 5,000 square feet of computerized greenhouses, a 5,000-square-foot lath house, a floral and drafting lab, and disciplines such as "turf management," we doubt anyone would argue. And to think, we were still relying on dirt, sun, and water to do our growing.
Merritt College, 12500 Campus Drive, Oakl. (510) 531-4911, www.merritt.edu 
This master's program allows students to develop as writers and visual artists simultaneously, and encourages a "deep exploration of the book form in both content and materiality." The interplay of form and content is not a new academic trope, but given that physical codices may soon be obsolete, taking a moment to ponder the book as object might not be a bad idea — lest future generations wonder why we wrote all over our toilet paper. Literary artifacts? Worth checking out!
Mills College, 5000 MacArthur Blvd., Oakl. (510) 430-2255, www.mills.edu 
Tourists looking for a tequila sunrise and a tan may not realize that the pool they're baking beside used to be a jungle. Each year, sensitive wildlife areas the world over are steamrolled under hotel strips. At the same time, environmentally-conscious tourism has become a booming industry. Given the facts, a student could do worse than this City College Business School program. The quickie certificate takes just a year — not a bad thing, considering ecotourism's popularity and the rapidly decreasing availability of stuff left to tour.
City College of San Francisco, Ocean Campus, 50 Phelan, SF. (415) 239-300, www.ccsf.edu 
With a focus on risk reduction counseling, data collection, and outreach strategies, this one-year certificate in HIV/STI prevention studies from City College's health education department just seems like a really good plan to bring a brighter future to all.
City College of San Francisco, Ocean Campus, 50 Phelan, SF. (415) 239-3000, www.ccsf.edu 
Preparing for the future is all about remembering the past ... or so might say a folklorist with a master's or doctorate from UC Berkeley. An interdisciplinary degree from the department of anthropology, folkloristics (that's the term) provide a new spin on the studies of ethnicity, nationality, gender, and sexuality, as well as the chance to revive vernacular tales, customs, beliefs, and plain ol' stories from days gone by.
UC Berkeley, 318 Sproul Hall No. 5900, Berk. (510) 642-7405, www.berkeley.edu 
That "melting pot" we all learned about in grade school is on the boil — bubbling with a range of issues both sweet and spicy, and some we haven't even tasted yet. As our country continues to diversify, equity, social justice, and community empowerment will only become more important. San Francisco State University's B.A. in raza studies seeks to offer future leaders the knowledge, skills, and social consciousness necessary to navigate an increasingly complex social landscape.
San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Ave., SF. (415) 338-1111, www.sfsu.edu 
If everything else on this list is just a bit too futuristic and far out, Golden Gate University offers one of the country's oldest and best-respected graduate programs in taxation. Looking for the ultimate in job security? This is your best bet since the San Francisco College of Mortuary Sciences closed in 2002. Death ... and taxes. Golden Gate University School of Taxation, 536 Mission, SF. (415) 442-7880, www.ggu.edu