62 and older study their interests for $10 per credit

Only a few degree-seeking senior citizens attend the U.

by Rachel Raveling

After 41 years of teaching, 65-year-old Charley Underwood returned to the classroom as a student.

Underwood is a non-degree-seeking senior citizen student at the University of Minnesota. HeâÄôs in his fourth horticulture class right now and takes just one per semester.

And he doesnâÄôt have to pay hardly anything.

State law requires higher education facilities to allow resident senior citizens to attend classes without paying tuition in Minnesota. The students must pay class fees and service charges where applicable.

Minnesota residents older than 62 can take classes for $10 per credit, plus any additional class fees. They may audit any class for free. But senior citizens are only allowed to register for class after all tuition-paying students have been accommodated.

There are only a few degree-seeking senior citizen students at the University, said Bob Stine, associate dean of the College of Continuing Education. He added that there are only a handful of non-degree-seeking senior citizen students, as well.

Underwood said one of the best things he has gained from returning to school is discovering the âÄútremendous resources at the University.âÄù

Natural resources, that is. Underwood spends his afternoons on the St. Paul campus foraging amaranth, acorns and berries to make jelly and flour for his family and friends.

Stine said senior students have a variety of interests: Some of them want to finish the schooling they missed out on, while others just want to learn and gain new skills. He said many of the students create individualized degrees to incorporate their varying interests.

Underwood said he had never foraged before coming to the University, but thinks it is important for people to learn about food security and how to supply and sustain their own food.

Teaching Instructor Bill Peters said he has worked with several senior citizen students in class, including Underwood. Peters said Underwood has gotten to know a lot of students and encouraged them to âÄúfollow his path.âÄù

Tiffanie Stone, a 20-year-old student at the University and UnderwoodâÄôs lab partner in Plant Production this semester, said she loves working with Underwood because they have a lot in common.

Stone introduced Underwood to foraging amaranth on the St. Paul campus earlier this semester and since then, they have also gotten together to hunt for acorns.

Senior citizen students often âÄúenjoy being in class with younger students, and younger students appreciate the viewpoint of a completely different perspective,âÄù Stine said.

Underwood attended Macalester College and was a social studies and young development teacher in Africa, Costa Rica and here in Minnesota throughout his 41-year-long career.

The transition back into the classroom can be a challenge for students, Peters said.

âÄúSome students can feel a little overwhelmed by competing with younger students,âÄù he said. âÄúBut, after the first test and a couple assignments they usually feel fine.âÄù

Peters did recall one recent senior citizen student who left because it was too overwhelming after being away from the classroom for several years.

Underwood said parts of the transition were difficult.

âÄúYou should have seen me trying to learn Moodle,âÄù he said.

It was also a challenge to go from social science to natural science âÄî especially now that the education system has changed.

âÄúI donâÄôt know what all these damn symbols are. My last biology class was in 1960,âÄù he said.

His peers are usually younger than his children and so are some of his instructors, but Underwood said heâÄôs âÄúhaving a blast.âÄù

 âÄúI feel accepted. I take my education into my own hands and ask a lot of questions that other people probably wouldnâÄôt ask. Sometimes I even feel appreciated.âÄù