Older People Go Back to College to Learn New Things, Get Fresh Start

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I'm Barbara Klein. And I'm Steve Ember with Explorations in VOA Special English. We continue the series about how older Americans are keeping their minds active.  Today we tell about some of the adult education programs offered by colleges and universities.

Martin Feldman was a chemistry professor for forty years.  He retired from Howard University in Washington, D.C. about five years ago.  Mr. Feldman says when he retired he thought he would like to do something he had not done before.  Yet, he says, he was not really interested in spending a lot of time as a student in a classroom, writing papers and taking tests.

One day Mr. Feldman found a list of classes offered at Montgomery College near his home in Silver Spring, Maryland.  The college lets people sixty years and older who live in Montgomery County take classes.  They do not have to pay the normal tuition cost, just the cost of supplies.

Mr. Feldman decided to try a sculpture class.  It teaches students how to make art out of clay, wood, metal and plastic.  And it meets only one day a week.

Martin Feldman says he quickly decided he really liked sculpture.  So he has continued with the class, experimenting with combining different materials and shapes.

About half of the members of the sculpture class are older adults who live in the area.  They take the class for no college credit.  The other students are college age.  They are taking the class for credit to get a degree and are paying tuition to take it.

Martin Feldman is also taking a class at a private school of art and design as a regular student.  His artwork had to be judged good enough for him to be accepted in the class.  And he has to pay the full cost.

Mr. Feldman is happy he was able to try something completely new when he retired.  He has decided to spend a month at an art school in San Miguel Allende, Mexico.  He will try something else new while he is there  – learning to make sculpture by welding metal.

Most big universities have continuing education programs that offer traditional classes for older adults who want to continue learning.  Some provide training programs that give people who complete them a certificate to prove they have gained new skills.  The cost for university classes can be high, even for continuing education students.

Many smaller colleges offer traditional classes at lower cost and provide other programs for older adults in their area who have different educational needs.  Prince George's Community College in Maryland is one of them.

Camille Crawford is head of a program called Seasoned Adults Growing Educationally, or SAGE, at Prince George's Community College.  It is part of the Workforce Development and Continuing Education division of the college.  The program is thirty years old.

Ms. Crawford says SAGE offers more than four hundred classes every four months.  The classes are held in about sixty places all around Prince George's County.  About five thousand older adults are taking classes at any one time.  They do not have to travel to the college.  They can take classes near where they live.

People can take SAGE classes in community centers, retirement communities and religious centers.  The cost is very low.  For fifty dollars, people over sixty who live in Prince George's County can take as many classes as they want in a four-month period.

SAGE offers classes in art, computers, finance, heath, history, languages and music.  Professors who teach at Prince George's Community College also teach the SAGE classes.  One professor told Ms. Crawford that when he started teaching a SAGE class he realized again why he became a teacher.  He said the older adults were a joy to teach.  They were in the class because they wanted to learn, not because they had to be there to get a college degree.

Ms. Crawford says some of the SAGE students never finished high school so they would not have been admitted to most colleges.  SAGE classes are open to everyone.  Adults who never thought they would have a chance to take college level classes are able to do so in the SAGE program.

Camille Crawford says many of the college's continuing education classes are related to work.  Some of the older adults in the area need to keep working to earn money, even if they have retired from their jobs.  So the Workforce and Continuing Education division of Prince George's Community College has programs to help provide new job skills for older adults.  Some of these people moved to the area from another country and do not have the skills needed for jobs in the United States.

Prince George's County Department of Family Services identifies the people who should be given training for a job.  The college provides free training and placement in an internship program with a non-profit organization or a government agency.  The adult students are paid a minimum wage while they are in training.  The federal government helps support the program.

Camille Crawford says that one of the first questions asked of anyone seeking a job today is: "What computer skills do you have?"  So the Workforce and Continuing Education division of Prince George's Community College combines job preparation skills with computer training.  Those who successfully finish the program receive certificates to prove they are trained to work in an office.

Ms. Crawford says the training and continuing education programs have provided older adults with new skills.  Many who are now working part time feel they are doing something meaningful in their retirement years.

The University Continuing Education Association is the oldest organization in the United States of continuing education programs in colleges and universities.  It began in nineteen fifteen.  The organization now has about four hundred fifty members.  These college and universities are in most of the American states and in about thirty countries from Australia to Kuwait.

Timothy Sloate is director of research for the University Continuing Education Association.  He says studies have shown that many baby boomers plan to keep working at least part time after they retire.  Baby boomers are the large group of Americans born between nineteen forty-six and nineteen sixty-four.  The oldest members of the group are just turning sixty and thinking of retiring from their jobs.

Mr. Sloate says many baby boomers are planning to learn new things in retirement.  Others, he says, are looking for job training.  They want to learn new skills to use when they are retired.

Timothy Sloate says the members of the University Continuing Education Association are expanding their learning in retirement programs.  One way is through the growth of classes that are offered online.  These online classes let adults far from the college or university take a class through their computers in their homes.

The University Continuing Education Association organizes about fifteen conferences a year for its members in different areas of the country.  It provides a monthly newsletter.  It does research that helps members develop new programs. And it offers professional development for continuing education administrators.

In November, two thousand six, the University Continuing Education Association held a unity conference with the China Continuing Education Association at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

Thirty officials from major American universities and thirty from Chinese universities shared common problems and solutions.  One educator from China and one from the United States discussed the continuing education situation in their countries at each meeting during the two days of the conference.  They talked about a single subject such as new developments in online teaching for adults or changes in the market for continuing education.

Organizers are planning to hold an American and Chinese continuing education conference each year.  The next one will be held later this year at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

This program was written by Marilyn Christiano.  It was produced by Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Barbara Klein. You can read other programs in this continuing education series on our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com.  Listen again next week for another EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Voice of America Special English

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