College isn’t only for those who have recently graduated from high school. According to AARP, the number of adults between the ages of 50 to 64 returning to college is steadily increasing, especially with continued educational opportunities.
To meet the growth, institutions are adding programs so seniors can audit classes or work toward a degree. No matter the goal, Suzanne Ortiz, program manager for open enrollment programs at Cuyahoga Community College’s Corporate College in Warrensville Heights, and Brooke Scharlott, director of UCAP and director of academic planning and partnerships at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, aging adults should explore the options.
“A lot of individuals come back to school for two reasons – the opportunity for them to be in a program and learn what they want to learn, not what they need to learn, and learning alongside like-minded people,” Ortiz said. “It also allows them to get out on a college campus. They love being part of the college community and be inside the atmosphere. It allows them to be able to go back to school and see what the college has to offer.”
At Tri-C, seniors have options when returning to school. Ortiz said aging adults can either pursue a degree normally, take part in Encore Campus Fridays or learn through Program 60. Encore Campus Fridays is a program at the college’s west, east and west shore campuses where seniors can attend classes every Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., as well as get involved in the community with on- and off-campus learning opportunities, for one low registration fee. Program 60 allows seniors to attend classes, but on an audit basis. They won’t receive college credit for Program 60 courses, Ortiz said.
Scharlott said many seniors explore learning opportunities because they’re also living longer.
“With a lot of older students, what we find more with anything, students have often put their children through college first and put their education on hold, but now it’s their turn,” she explained. “So, a lot of them are coming back to either finish a degree, reskill themselves or achieve a personal goal. You’ve got people in a position where they think they are still young and want to do something. They still plan to be a vital part of society.”
At Ursuline College, seniors can take part in UCAP or the college’s lifelong learning program. UCAP offers bachelor’s degree completion programs with flexible scheduling in five-week courses in traditional, online and hybrid formats. Though not designed specifically for older adults, Scharlott said seniors regularly enroll in the program. With the lifelong learning program, enrollees can expand their knowledge and enjoy classroom learning, in a non-credit program without the pressure of assignments and exams.
Regardless of the educational path a senior decides to take, the benefits are evident.
“It keeps them fresh and current,” Scharlott said. “Many seniors aren’t doing this for a job or a degree, but for personal fulfillment. It’s about getting a different side of things and getting an appreciation for new ideas and views different than your own.”
But going back to college doesn’t just have educational benefits. Ortiz noted seniors can also enjoy positive experiences interacting with younger students.
“It’s beneficial for both sides,” she said. “The older generation can see what the younger generations are interested in and what they’re doing. And the younger generation can see that education doesn’t end, no matter who you are or your age. Whatever it is, you have the opportunity to learn, no matter who you are.”