Outside the Forest Grove senior center, fresh snow covers the ground as a chilly winter’s day begins to take shape. Inside, members of Writers in the Grove mill about following another meeting; many of them worked as doctors or teachers before retiring and becoming writers. Soon some of them will become students again, taking one class for no credit at Pacific University.

The bonus? They each get to attend the class for free under a university program.

“I heard about it inadvertently through the school, through Rotary, and then I heard about it from my friend that was taking a class,” said retired pediatrician Chuck Pritchard.

Under the tuition and fees section of the 2011-12 catalog, nestled in a tiny space between the itemized tuition and the itemized fees, sits the following: “Pacific University welcomes the diversity of age and experience that older students bring to the campus. Anyone 55 or older may audit one traditional undergraduate class per semester without a tuition charge, on a space-available basis. No credit is given for audited courses.”

The program addresses two goals at the core of Pacific’s mission, by increasing the diversity of perspectives on campus and by providing a form of community and civic engagement. However, students rarely hear about many of the services offered to the community from Pacific itself.

“I never heard about this program until talking with some elderly folks in this community,” said freshman Alex Hatch.
These programs are nothing new, nor are they rare. In fact, according to a 2008 survey by the American Council on Education, almost 60 percent of schools offer tuition waiver programs to older adults. However, in most instances accessing these benefits is extremely difficult. This is not the case with Pacific’s program.

The Reverend Dan Wilson-Fey of the Forest Grove United Methodist Church took an introduction to classical music class and recalled, “It was very easy to register and it seems like good outreach to the community.”

According to Pritchard, the university staff helped him overcome the difficulties he faced navigating the computer system.
Others recall the helpfulness of university staff too. Forest Grove resident Peggy Day asked the registrar’s office about a writing program.

“The registrar told me about the special auditing program for people 55 and over,” Day said.

Pritchard suggested that instead of having interested community members use Pacific’s regular system, the university could post a list of available classes and allow qualified individuals to pick from it.

The success of the program, though, is best-judged by the experience individuals have had while taking classes.

“Great,” the Rev. Wilson-Fey replied regarding the class he took. “I had a very good experience and I learned a lot, it was odd doing homework, some sort of freedom in knowing that if something came up in my life, I didn’t have to do all the tests and homework, but I did them anyway.”

The American Council on Education isolates three major motivators for older adults seeking education: learning to learn, learning to connect and learning to work.

It appears that many participating in Pacific’s program are motivated by the first.

“It lets me study something for a while and I like a lot of different things,” Pritchard said.

Wilson-Fey agreed, “It was an opportunity to do things I don’t normally do.”

Overall, Pacific’s policy of offering those over 55 the chance audit a class for free will allow many to study new and exciting things in which they have an interest.

For others, it’s a chance to expand on previous knowledge, Day said, “I have three published books and wanted to get back into a learning environment.”

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