Saturday, October 20, 2007

Never too Late, Indeed: Today's "Senior Class"

"Call it the graying of community colleges. With more free time on their hands, more retirees, many of them in their 70's or older, are finding their way back to the classroom."

In her article, "This senior class grayer, and still hungry to learn: Community colleges flooded with retirees" in the October 19 Chicago Tribune, staff reporter Megan Twohey explores the growing back-to-class trend among seniors. Community colleges are creating or expanding programs to meet their needs.

Among Chicago-area suburban colleges with flourishing programs is The College of DuPage. Its Older Adult Institute, which opened in 1982, has grown from 65 to 7,000 students. Oakton Community College's Emeritus Program, 25 years old, has more the 23,000 students, and the newer Harper College Lifelong Learning Institute is also growing.

According to a national survey, while less that 25% of community colleges had special programs for seniors in 1990, 69% had them in 2005. "It's just going to keep growing," said the Oakton Emeritus Program's manager Leona Hoelting. The average age in her program is 75.

Some seniors take classes for credit to earn associates' degrees; others appreciate the "no grades, no pressure" atmosphere in non-credit lectures and classes that they find interesting: everything from Iraq to art to Shakespeare, from history to religion. Of course there are social aspects too: theater and other cultural events, sports, ballroom dancing.

As a long-time community college professor, mainly before the growth of specialized programs for seniors, I noted that my older students were often my better students. They wanted to learn, did their homework, and asked questions. Now, some Oakton students said they'd tried golf, Florida, and other typical retirement locations and activities, but CCNY grad Larry Pressner, 81, says, "Golf doesn't send me."

Having spent virtually my whole life in one classroom or another, I have not explored these senior programs extensively myself. I live in the city, but such programs are expanding here as well. I'd like to try teaching a writing or literature class for my fellow seniors, but if senior students are in demand, senior teachers don't seem to be.

Whether you want to explore those subjects you never had time for in college, or did not have time or money for college at all when you were younger, check out your local community college. It's never really too late: "We had one student who was 100 years old," said Marget Hamilton of College of DuPage's Older Adult Instutute.

Link to story:,0,833896.story

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

1 comment:

MSR said...

As an educator I have always encouraged students to complete high school diplomas, no matter what their age and adults to take those college classes they never had time for. At the age of 61 I took my own advice and enrolled in an MFA program to pursue that degree I should have had 30 years ago. I have always subscribed to the concept that it is "never too late," no matter what your age.