Heading Back to School
Classes Are Not Just for Kids
August 24, 2010
As the school year approaches, it is not just the under-20 crowd who are buying notebooks and filling backpacks. Non-traditional students, that is people considered outside of the typical college age or structure, are heading back to school in increasing numbers. Baby boomers represent nearly 20 percent of all students in higher education over the past decade. According to the University Continuing Education Association, older adults comprise nearly 57 percent of all students at four-year public institutions, and 50 percent at private colleges.
Taking courses, either for a degree or just for the fun of it, can help stimulate your mind and keep you active. As the old saying goes - use it or lose it. Studies have shown that people of any age who keep their minds engaged in active education live longer and delay memory loss and lethargy.
Faced with an ever-changing job market, older workers are returning to school to succeed in their fields and to begin new careers. Taking a class offers an opportunity to learn a new skill or trade, or build on skills an individual already has. Classes also help older adults meet people who share their interests and give them an interest that they can share with family and friends. Most of all, going back to school gives seniors a feeling of accomplishment.
By state law, all Ohio residents age 60 and older may attend classes at state-funded colleges and universities at no cost. The program allows seniors to take college courses for free, with certain limitations:
- They must audit the course and will receive no college credit for their participation;
- Auditing students may not be allowed to participate in all aspects of the course (i.e., exams, labs);
- Participation is limited to courses with available space and is usually subject to approval by the instructor; and
- Some costs may apply, such as textbooks, equipment, lab fees and parking.
The Ohio Department of Aging's Web site lists the contact information of Ohio schools that offer free college courses for older adults and Lifelong Learning Institutes. The department also is working with Ohio's university system to create more learning opportunities for older Ohioans and encourage schools to adopt policies that are more senior-friendly, including financial aid and parking.
When seniors call the school's admissions office to ask about these programs, they need to be aware that different schools may call their programs by various names (e.g., Program 60, Senior Audit, 60-Plus, SAGE, etc.). Also, for various reasons, some staff members at the schools may not be aware of or familiar with the requirements of the program. An older adult who is interested in taking free classes may need to be persistent. If the first staff person is not helpful, other strategies include calling back at a different time or asking to speak with someone else. The program could be administered from a different department, such as continuing education or community outreach. An older adult who is interested in free classes also can visit the campus and speak directly with an admissions counselor to enroll.
Learning does not happen just in school and institutions. There are other educational opportunities available to Ohio seniors. Approximately 450 senior centers in Ohio provide courses and programs on topics including arts, crafts, exercise, computer skills and more. A Lifelong Learning Institute is a community-based organization of retirement-age people dedicated to meeting the educational interests of its members. Most institutes are sponsored by a college or university and provide unique, non-credit academic programs developed by the members. For the more adventurous, The Road Scholar, formerly Elderhostel, is a national, not-for-profit organization, that provides in-depth and behind-the-scenes experiences for almost every interest and ability, including nearly 8,000 educational tours in all 50 states and more than 90 countries.
If older adults want the benefits of keeping their minds active, but do not want to go back to school or take classes, volunteering at a local public school or Head Start and tutoring young children in reading and math benefits not only a child, but also the adult and the community. Local school systems and Head Start programs are listed in the phone book.