Retirement years are not the time to stop learning

Categories: Nation/World

March 28, 2014, edition
By Cori Fugere Urban
Catholic News Service

Learning of the opportunity to hear a well-known syndicated cartoonist speak about his work, 69-year-old retiree Arthur Hannon wasn’t sure he’d be interested.

The Senior Symposia workshop turned out to be “absolutely fascinating,” he said, with the cartoonist giving his audience of senior citizens a peek at how he takes ideas and turns them into illustrations.

The Senior Symposia at Greenfield Community College in Greenfield, Mass., coordinated by the college’s Office of Community Education with area senior citizens, offer seniors a chance to continue their education in a format suited to their needs, interests and resources.

Variety of topics

The Senior Symposia board members collect ideas for the eight or nine presentations offered each semester. Topics have included environmental issues, local companies doing business in a global economy, modern China, the Aztecs and their gods, themes in film and computers for beginners.

Each program meets once or twice — more for computer classes — for about two-and-a-half hours.

“There are a lot of people who are very interested in events of all kinds — the arts, history, current happenings,” Hannan said. “But frequently they don’t have time to devote to a full semester course and are not interested in getting [college] credit. They want something packaged conveniently, available to them and of quality.

“People want to learn more. It exercises the ol’ noggin,” Hannan said.

Similar classes offered

The Senior Symposia — geared to a 55-plus constituency — is one of many similar programs hosted by colleges and universities today. Most such programs cost $20 to $30 for one-day or two-day courses.

Of course, the Road Scholar program ( provides longer learning adventures involving foreign travel for persons 55 and older. Road Scholar fees start at less than $500 per person for three- to five-night domestic residency programs like quilting in West Virginia, a cooking course in Philadelphia or golfing in Arizona. Foreign programs are longer and more expensive.

According to Nathan Jewell, a registration agent for the Boston-based Road Scholar, programs appeal to seniors who want to travel and learn but feel more comfortable when traveling with a group. And Road Scholar trips bring people with similar interests together.

At Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Ore., the Siskiyou Center is the umbrella name for that university’s adult education programs, which include Road Scholar and a Senior Ventures program, along with a learning-in-retirement group for local seniors.

The Senior Ventures program features classes, theater tickets and museum admissions.

Ashland-based programs include all meals and lodging on campus, and the educational ventures combine  lively classes with recreation and travel.

Program fees begin at a little more than $100 a night per person, based on standard room, double occupancy.

Jeanne Stallman is director of the Siskiyou Center. Its name comes from a Native American word referring to a “place where the wise elders meet.”

For 50+ crowd

The Renaissance Institute at the College of Notre Dame in Baltimore, Md., is another active group of men and women who have reached the age of 50 and are interested in lifelong learning and intellectual growth.

Similar to a learning cooperative, the institute offers two 13-week semesters of noncredit courses designed and led by the members themselves. Study topics are determined by the group and have included literature, public affairs, writing, history, philosophy, music, art, languages, t’ai chi, film, science, computers, water aerobics, dance and acting.

Annual dues of $310 permit members to enroll in as many courses as they wish every fall and spring, to attend lunchtime enrichment lectures featuring guest speakers and to audit a credit course each year in the weekday college program (on a space-available basis).

Members have full privileges at the library Notre Dame shares with the adjacent Loyola College in Maryland, and they’re able to use the campus pool, dance studio and art studios. Among other perks, members enjoy reduced admission fees for many college events.