Older Students Auditing Courses Find a Welcome on Campus
OLDER students audit courses at colleges and universities for many reasons. Some retirees prefer lecture halls to bingo parlors. Travelers might take history or geography classes to learn about future vacation destinations. A philosophy class might help a widow cope with grief.
Then there is the cost — or lack of it. Many institutions across the country, including Ivy League universities and unheralded community colleges, offer older students free or discounted tuition.
For Judith Sherman, who some years ago took a religion class at Princeton, auditing proved therapeutic. Like many retirees in college, Ms. Sherman, now 82, deliberately kept a low profile, rarely raising her hand. But once the class delved into the Holocaust, Ms. Sherman, who had survived the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany, felt obligated to speak up.
“This non-Jewish professor was really struggling to connect these privileged students to the Holocaust — and I was sitting there silently,” she recalled. She soon revealed her wartime nightmare to her professor, who invited her to lecture the class. She said her star turn at the lectern “was kind of a freeing experience.”
“I felt as if I was no longer the only guardian of all these memories,” she said.
Politicians freely dole out educational benefits to retirees, notes Prof. Frederic Jacobs at the School of Education, Teaching and Health of American University in Washington. They vote at higher rates than other groups, and mandated tuition waivers cost relatively little. Lawmakers usually stipulate that institutions offer such benefits only on a space-available basis.