College isn't just for the young

By Robert N. Jenkins, LifeTimes Editor
Published August 28, 2007

Among the major programs under which older adults are taking college courses:

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

OLLI began in 1997 as the University of Southern Maine's Senior College, which became the nation's first Osher institute in the spring of 2001.

Beginning grants, typically $100,000, are made on the understanding that once an institute is launched, the Osher Foundation will consider renewing the grant for two years, with a view to providing an endowment of at least $1-million to programs that have shown sustainability.

Among the colleges and universities offering OLLI programs are dozens of those in the California state system - billionaire Bernard Osher was living in the San Francisco area when he was inspired to provide grants.

Programs have been funded at schools ranging from some of the largest public universities, such as Arizona State, Minnesota and Texas, to smaller private schools such as Brandeis University and Eckerd College, which got its funding in February 2005.

That was the same year that existing continuing education programs at the University of South Florida and the University of Miami were awarded OLLI funds.


Eckerd College

In addition to its OLLI program, Eckerd has two other options for older learners:

Program for Experienced Learners (PEL). More than 3,000 adult students have graduated through this program since October 1977. A brochure notes it is designed for "people who have the motivation and maturity to succeed, yet need the flexibility and personal attention the program provides."

Earning a bachelor of arts requires a minimum of 36 courses but, importantly, the PEL option offers credit for work and life experience or for taking comprehensive tests rather than sitting through the course work.

PEL is not aimed solely at seniors. The minimum age is 23, although the current average of students is in the 40s, with many in the 60s and 70s. Classes meet evenings and weekends, because many PEL students work full time.

There are 14 majors offered, from anthropology to visual arts.

Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College (ASPEC) currently involves about 300 retirees or people changing careers. They interact with each other and with the full-time undergraduates and faculty.

Those in ASPEC can audit classes for reduced fees, act as mentors, serve as adjunct faculty and organize community volunteer efforts.

The vast majority of ASPEC members are retired, but there is no minimum age.


Pasco-Hernando Community College

Those 55 and older can enroll in PHCC's Senior Academy, held on the West campus in New Port Richey.

In addition to a variety of computer-skills classes, students can take continuing education courses and may audit or enroll in regular college classes. Auditing means the student does not do the homework or take tests but also does not receive college credit.

Continuing education classes are open to any residents, with no age minimum; topics for the eight hours of classes range from foreign languages to watercolor techniques.

For more information, call (727) 816-3439 or go to phcc.edu (search "Senior Academy") .


Audit courses

The state of Florida allows any resident at least 60 years of age to audit, free, any course at a public university if there is room. Check with each university for its online catalog of classes and its procedure for registering to audit.



Programs generally last a day to a few weeks and the cost can range from $60 for a day trip to more than $4,000 for international excursions. For more information, go to www.Elderhostel.org.