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The Minnesota Daily

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‘A health club for the mind,’ institute schools the aging

M By Jake Weyer

minnesota elderly are giving the phrase “back to school” a whole new meaning.

As the state’s elderly population continues to grow, so too does the demand for post-retirement education. The University’s ElderLearning Institute is helping to quell this demand while letting people know school is not just for kids anymore.

The 8-year-old institute is part of the College of Continuing Education and is run entirely by volunteers. Students pay $195 per year, which allows them to take two classes from each of the fall, winter and spring sessions. Course offerings include classes such as sports and the American psyche, ethnic eating adventures, warm art for a cold winter and more than 100 others.

“Classes are held all over the Twin Cities wherever there is room – in churches, libraries, residential areas and on campus,” said institute board director and teacher, Dave Johnson, who admits to being less than 104 years old.

Courses are led by current and retired University faculty as well as faculty from other universities, community professionals and institute members.

The institute tries to offer courses equivalent in rigor to those offered at the University for younger students, but they are taught differently, Johnson said.

“Students aren’t lectured at as much. There is a lot of discussion,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get students to stop talking.”

Courses require no prerequisites, have no exams and are not worth credit. They are offered purely to enrich those who want to continue learning, said Charles Turpin, an institute board member.

“We don’t care about credits or receiving a degree – that’s not our objective anymore,” Turpin said. “Our objective now is to learn.”

The ElderLearning Institute is often referred to by its students as a health club for the mind.

“Keeping intellectually alive is the best way to grow old,” said 86-year-old Earl Johnson, who has been an ElderLearning Institute student for three years.

Activities are also offered outside the classroom, such as biking, backpacking and international travel opportunities.

Turpin said the average age of institute students is approximately 70 years. There is not an age requirement to be a student, but the youngest are in their 60s, he said.

Of course, the institute is not for everyone. A handful of elders do want to take classes for credit in the hopes of earning a degree. According to the University’s Web site, Minnesota residents over the age of 62 may take classes for $9 per credit whenever space is available after the first day of class.

Chuck Gribble, 63, is a University graduate student hoping to receive his master’s degree in liberal studies sometime next year. After working a variety of jobs in several different states throughout his life, Gribble decided in 2000 he wanted to go back to school.

“I’d like to get into the arena of practical education and try to hook up with an organization that helps people of my time frame,” Gribble said, adding he has friends in the ElderLearning Institute.

Jan Hively, 70, received her doctorate. last year from the work, community and family education department at the University’s College of Education and Human Development. She is currently a senior fellow in the College of Continuing Education as well as coordinator for the Vital Aging Network – a statewide movement aimed at creating a new strength-based vision of what it means to grow old.

Hively cited a quote from John Dewey, a philosopher and educator, to sum up elderly learning: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

The ElderLearning Institute’s winter session begins Jan. 6. For more information call 612-624-7847 or go to

Jake Weyer is a freelance writer. The freelance editor welcomes comments at [email protected]
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