[Paleopsych] NYT: Active Lives: A Hunger to Learn Through College Classes
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Business > Retirement > Active Lives: A Hunger to Learn Through College Classes
April 12, 2005
By VIVIAN MARINO
ELIZABETH SWANN was never one to lounge around the house or spend her
leisure time hitting golf and tennis balls, even after retiring from
her job as a social worker three years ago. While she has nothing
against physical exercise, mental exercise is what she craves.
Fortunately, there is plenty of that at the University of South
Florida, which is near her Tampa home. At least once a week, Mrs.
Swann heads for the campus, where many choices await her, from sitting
in on anthropology lectures to engaging in class discussions about
ethics or religion with students who are a fraction of her age.
Walking to classes helps keep her fit and the courses she audits "keep
my brain from atrophying," said Mrs. Swann, 77, who has a master's
degree in gerontology.
There is a boom in retired adults participating in college auditing
programs, which exist at many colleges and universities. One reason
for the influx is the increase of retirement communities in college
towns or near campuses. More colleges and universities are also
offering auditing programs.
The trend is expected to accelerate as more of the baby boom
generation, the oldest of whom turn 60 next year, enter retirement.
"This is a generation that is already pretty well educated, and they
will want to take advantage of these opportunities," said Clara M.
Lovett, president of the American Association for Higher Education.
According to a 2002 Harris Poll, 81 percent of people ages 55 to 64
want to continue to learn after retirement and 70 percent are eager to
try new things. "There are older people who have taken courses and
parlayed them into a second career," said Rebecca Alssid, director of
lifelong learning at Boston University. Ms. Alssid said that some of
the popular classes for auditors were computer technology, foreign
languages, history and art.
The price is often right for retirees. Most colleges that offer
auditing programs for retirees charge only a nominal fee or a small
percentage of the regular tuition. For example, the Evergreen Program
at Boston University, for people 58 and older, charges $50 a class. At
Pennsylvania State University, the Go-60 Program, for those 60 and
older, requires only a technology fee for computer access and a
student activity fee. The University of Washington's program for
people 60 and older waives tuition but charges registration and
Auditors are not required to take tests or hand in assignments, and no
grades or credits are given. Permission to enroll in a class is
usually at the discretion of the instructor, and so is the extent of
the auditor's participation. Everyone is welcome to pick up a syllabus
and textbooks. The noncompetitive aspect of auditing appeals to many
people, including Irving Ross, 82, a former retail executive from
Edison, N.J., who has audited history classes at Rutgers University in
New Brunswick for the last six years. Mr. Ross, who has an M.B.A.,
attends classes with two friends, also retired, who share his interest
in history. He said that he was reluctant to participate too much in
class discussions because that might intrude on the matriculating
students' time. The real discussion, he said, occurs after class with
his friends. "We all have lunch together right afterwards and we
discuss what we learned," Mr. Ross said. "It's a lot of fun."
Steven F. Lawson teaches Famous Trials: Civil Liberties in Modern
America, one of two courses that Mr. Ross and his friends are auditing
this semester. He said that he did not mind occasional participation
from the older students and sometimes solicits it. "A lot of these
folks have experienced the history that we are teaching," Dr. Lawson
said. "They can go back and see the interpretation of these events."
He is not the only instructor who values the older students. Michael
V. Angrosino, a professor of anthropology at the University of South
Florida and one of Mrs. Swann's teachers, said of his retired
auditors, "Their life experiences add a dimension to the discussion
that simply cannot be duplicated by the younger students."
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