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C. Paul Luongo's Published Columns

Friday, September 08, 2006

Seniors As Co-Eds on College Campuses

A Million people now turn sixty every month which means that older people will outnumber the young for the first time in history!

They’re even enrolling in college classes joining young students on campuses throughout America.

The number of people over sixty will rise to two Billion in 2050 from six hundred Million today, with the oldest (those eighty and over) increasing to three-hundred and fifty million from seventy Million. By then people over sixty will outnumber children up to fourteen years old. More retirees are taking advantage of programs that allow them to audit college courses. Colleges are also now courting seniors as students for good community relations and alas…even with an eye to bequests!

How do young students feel about this? We surveyed students in the greater Boston area and here’s what they had to say –

“Having the input of senior citizens allows colleges to maintain a sense of tradition but simultaneously courses must always be changing with the times, constantly revolutionizing, and I feel like if they are controlled by seniors, colleges may be held back a bit.” –Chris Charron, 22 of North Attleboro, MA

“I think that students no matter what age have the right to participate in education. I feel that as long as colleges are not taking away the options and flexibility for their younger students, gearing certain aspects of their curriculum to an older generation is acceptable”-Amy Stevens, 20 of Wellesley, MA

Some students complain that it creates hassles in that seniors ask questions that are not appropriate such as the issues of euthanasia. “However, it helps to have a role model who is older and helps facilitates the class.”, says one student.

Interference by enthusiastic auditors can be disruptive and sometimes professors will ignore the raised hand of eager retirees.

Some colleges charge a fee lower than younger students and others ask no fee at all.

Certain developers of retirement communities even boast the “education opportunities of universities close by” and even feature pictures of residents and lists of courses they’ve taken. Also, seniors who have a positive experience may encourage their grandchildren to attend. Barnard College even uses audit classes as a way to connect with alumnae, who can return later in life to add to their education.

However, Harvard University doesn’t allow them because “Our program is designed for undergraduate degree candidates”.

Other Universities have created special retirement learning institutes, with customized classes, concerts and field trips and group seniors together in classes instead of with undergrads.

Certain professors say the more senior auditors, the merrier. Some colleges even pair undergrads with auditors in an “Adopt-a-Senior” program, assigning them books to read and discuss together.

At the University of South Florida, the class popular with undergrads is “Life after Death” and the class popular with auditors is “The Dead Sea Scrolls”.

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