Elderly take advantage of noncredit courses

by Travis Reed

Attorney and University alumnus Richard Magnuson didn’t have the opportunity to take all of the college courses he wanted in his days on campus.
That’s why he’s decided to go back to school.
“As a lawyer, I had a very narrow education. There are many courses that I never had the opportunity to take,” Magnuson said. “This is an opportunity to at least get the beginnings of some of the subjects that I missed.”
Magnuson is just one of nearly 450 participants of the University’s ElderLearning Institute, a University College program that offers voluntary, noncredit courses for area elderly.
The program, now in its fourth year, is one of the largest of its kind in the country. There are no eligibility requirements for membership.
“Everything is voluntary. All we ask for is active participation,” said Steve Benson, executive director of the institute. “We have only one rule: No tests.”
It offers nearly 40 courses of study, covering subjects from foreign policy to Freudian psychology. Classes meet weekly and are taught by retired and current University faculty members on a voluntary basis.
So far, the program has been deemed a success by program organizers.
“The numbers increase every year, and I see a lot of the same people returning,” said Bonnie Skelton, a program volunteer and member. “The program peaks one’s interest in what’s going on in the world.”
Not only does the program allow area senior citizens to satisfy some of their curiosity and further their education, but it also allows some University professors to explore subjects they would not otherwise get to discuss in an educational setting.
Louis Janus, network coordinator of the National Language Resource Center, teaches a class on the future of the English language.
He has been studying the subject for some time but has never been allowed to teach an entire course about it.
“It’s sort of an experimental course for me. It’s a good place to try things out with enthusiastic people who want to be here,” Janus said.
It’s this sort of mutually beneficial relationship that has allowed the ElderLearning Institute to succeed.
“People come for the learning, but they stay for the camaraderie,” Benson said. “The heart of the program is active participation for the sheer joy of learning.”
The institute will soon be moving its facilities from Wesbrook Hall and the Nolte Center to the Gateway Center in November or December.

Travis Reed covers student life and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612)627-4070 x3235.