Bill and Karen Lawrence, of Craig, are among a growing number of older adults taking college classes to learn new skills, connect with their communities and enhance or change careers.

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Bill and Karen Lawrence, of Craig, are among a growing number of older adults taking college classes to learn new skills, connect with their communities and enhance or change careers.

Aging Well: Lifelong learning opens opportunities

Local senior citizens are exploring further education as colleges offer discounts, partnerships

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■ Colorado Mountain College

Adults 62 and older living in-district receive half-price tuition on credit courses. Courses also can be audited for no grade. For more information, call 970-870-4444 or visit www.coloradomtn.edu. Click the “locations” link at the top of the page for information about the Alpine Campus in Steamboat Springs.

■ Colorado Northwestern Community College

The Craig campus has had to revise its senior scholarship policy because of decreased sales tax revenue. Moffat County residents 62 and older receive a 75 percent tuition discount for credit-bearing courses and free tuition for select community education courses. The discounts apply to fall 2010 and spring 2011 courses. For more information, call 970-824-1101 or visit www.cncc.edu.

Bill and Karen Lawrence’s retirement years have been anything but boring.

Bill, a former attorney, and Karen, a former teacher, have filled their schedules and minds pursuing interests at Colorado Northwestern Community College in Craig.

“I think we are both lifetime learners,” Bill explained.

Joe Trujillo, 42, also is on a path of personal fulfillment at the college, but for a different reason. After losing his job in the computer IT sector, he is changing gears toward a more stable and meaningful career in nursing.

Leaving Denver for his hometown of Craig and attending school on limited funds, not to mention being back in the classroom, has been a major life transition.

“I’ve kind of put all my eggs in one basket,” he said.

Answering the call

Trujillo and the Lawrences are among a growing spectrum of nontraditional and older adults returning to higher education or, in some cases, attending college classes for the first time.

The trend, spurred by baby boomers and the economic downturn, has encouraged colleges to create more opportunities targeting lifelong learners.

Community colleges — with their small class sizes, convenient campuses, diversity-friendly environments and degree and community education programs — are most likely to serve older adults continuing their educations.

Many community colleges, including CNCC in Craig and Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs, welcome older adults with tuition discounts and community partnerships enhancing programs for lifelong learners.

In 2006, CNCC’s Craig campus established a policy providing 100 percent tuition scholarships for Moffat County residents 62 and older. The measure, supported by a mill levy, has been revised for fall and spring classes because of decreased sales tax revenue.

Significant discounts still are available for older adults, and the college hopes to provide full tuition scholarships again when financially possible.

“There’s an understanding of senior residents and their contributions to our community. (The scholarship) was a way to give back,” explained Mary Morris, director of community education. “We believe learning is the key to a healthy society at whatever age.”

Paths to fulfillment

“Reinvesting in the Third Age: Older Adults and Higher Education,” a report completed in 2008 by the American Council on Education and the Metlife Foundation, explores the education needs of older adults and how institutions can better meet those needs.

The report found that older adults take several paths toward personal fulfillment through education: Learning to learn, learning to connect and/or learning to work.

Like the Lawrences, many older adults engage in interests they may not have had time to explore during full-time careers.

Bill’s interests lie mostly in writing, photography and humanities courses, while Karen enjoys photography, fitness and art classes.

“Each (class) seems to open up an aspect of your life that has been very fruitful,” Bill Lawrence said.

The report notes that staying active and engaged through learning increases an older adult’s sense of their abilities, helping them manage the many transitions in the aging process.

Trips organized through CNCC have been particularly popular among older adult learners, many of whom are in their 70s and 80s. Some participate using walkers or wheelchairs.

“Whether it’s a trip to Brown’s Park, Ireland, or our computer lab, there’s an affirmation that comes from gaining knowledge that is very rewarding to human beings,” Morris said.

In rural areas, where individuals can be isolated, college classrooms help bring communities together.

Bill Lawrence’s memoir-writing class, for example, includes older adults with a wide range of educational backgrounds and views.

“You really get an appreciation for how people have progressed in life and what problems they’ve had to overcome,” he said. “Each person contributes.”

Being integrated into a class with multiple generations also can be enjoyable as students create mutually beneficial relationships.

Trujillo attends a class with students ranging in age from 19 to 45 with men and women.

“We come from a lot of different backgrounds, and there is a lot to learn from each other,” he said.

Like Trujillo, many individuals return to school out of necessity, to go back to work, change careers or enhance their skills at work.

For others, necessity is less about money and more about having skills to contribute to their families, as might be the case for caregivers, or to do volunteer work.

Programs are available for older individuals looking to transition into “encore” careers combining personal meaning, financial security and social contribution.

The website www.encore.org provides free information to older adults who want meaningful jobs in health care, education, green economy and other opportunities in the nonprofit and public sectors.

Part of Civic Ventures, a think tank on baby boomers and social purpose, the program includes fellowships for individuals and grants for colleges helping older adults prepare for social purpose work.

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tmanzanares@nwcovna.org. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information, visit www.agingwelltoday.com or call 871-7676.

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