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Seniors and the college experience

Traditional students at colleges are often surprised by the number of senior students they find attending schools they matriculate to after high school. Older students, particularly those of retirement age are becoming more and more common.

By the year 2030, it is estimated that 20 percent of the population will be 65 or older with time on their hands and potentially new interests to be satiated.

Forty years ago, seniors pretty much worked their entire lives. The retirement age was 68, and the average life expectancy was roughly the same. Today there is an entirely different picture. Retirement occurs by age 62 and seniors are living longer than ever before thanks to a healthier lifestyle and advanced medical treatment. There is the potential for 10 to 20 additional years to fill post-retirement. And many seniors are choosing to spend a portion of that time going back to school.

Research indicates that adult students (ages 25 and up) are becoming the new majority on college campuses nationwide. Older students say they relish the freedom of being able to focus on education now that they fulfilled their responsibilities to families and work.

"When they started careers and families, they had to set things aside, and now in their 60s or 70s or 80s they're saying, 'I never did read Plato,' or 'I always wanted to learn Italian,'" says Michael Shinagel, dean of continuing education at Harvard Extension School.

Many colleges and universities are realizing the zeal seniors have toward continuing education. Some matriculate adult students directly into regular classes. Others have developed lower-cost enrichment programs designed especially for seniors looking to gain knowledge or to pick up skills they may have missed in their younger days.

With senior citizen populations on the rise on college campuses, adults face a series of challenges and advantages being the non-traditional students. These students can contribute and receive much from their classroom and education experiences.

Here are some things to consider.

•Old students bring life experience to the class as well as a richness in diversity.

•Senior students can engage in conversations during the lessons and change the dynamic of classroom interaction. Professors may readily gravitate toward older students because they may have real-world experience with some of the lessons being taught.

•Older students can become role models to younger students and offer sage advice.

•Non-traditional students with real-world experience and contacts could be a perfect networking contact for other students, making him or her sought out in the classroom.

Age is no longer a defining factor on college campuses. Now is the time to consider enrolling in higher education to obtain a degree or to simply take a few courses in interesting subjects.




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