Never Too Old To Learn

The Early Show: Senior Helen Wasserman CBS/The Early Show

In The Early Show's latest Living Better Longer series, some are finding that you're never too old to be a freshman.

Across the country, a growing number of senior citizens are foregoing traditional retirements in place like Florida and Arizona. Instead, as The Early Show finds out, they are heading back to school — a trend that many universities are doing their best to encourage.

Aaron and Helen Wasserman are in their 80s, but like other students in this time of the year, they're in need of school supplies.

"When the fall term started this year and we went down to the bookstore to see what we would need it was so exciting," said Helen. "I said to my husband, 'Look, isn't this wonderful. Here we are back in a college setting.'"

The Wassermans are part of a growing number of senior citizens who are trading in golf bags for book bags.

"If I had opted to just play golf I would feel that I'm stagnating," said Aaron. "I would find that boring."

The Wassermans live on the campus on Laselle College in Newton, Mass. In a retirement community named Laselle Village. To be admitted here, residents must agree to participate in educational activities for as long as they are physically and mentally able.

"We don't have to take the finals and midterms exams," explained Helen. "We do have to participate and we do have to sometimes write some papers. Helen is taking class this semester in Readings In Multicultural Literature. She says it's been very positive. And the last class they took, they had several students thank them for being in their class.

"What we have found is, we have tapped into a groundswell of demand of a different kind of retiring," said Laselle President Tom Dewitt. "And to some extent, we did not know that. My instinct told me, 'I can't believe I wanna retire and do nothing.' But we did not know it."

Dewitt says building an on campus retirement community was a risk for the college, but now there is a long waiting list for retirees.

"The difference between living here and living elsewhere is a respect for and interest in continuous learning and being engaged with young people," said Dewitt. "Our elderly will say one, they want the learning. They want the opportunity to learn, to do the things they've always wanted to do. … Two, they do believe that they give something back."

The chance to take classes is just one of that attractions of a college town. From high quality medical care to sporting events, seniors are discovering that there's a lot going on campus.

"The sporting events of the university is very exciting, it brings a lot of energy to the city," said retiree Steve Brown. "We probably, at the university, at least 3 times a week, attend some type of a lecture, we go to the symphony."

Steve and his wife Judy Brown looked at a number of college towns before retiring to Charlottesville, Va. — home of the University of Virginia.

"We wanted culture that if you live in a university town is brought into the university," said Judy. "A college has more going on during the day and it's also nice to being stimulated by young people … the whole atmosphere of being in a college environment is nice — it keeps you young."

Many colleges now cater to retirees. Today the Browns are taking part in a University forum attended primarily by seniors.

"The Miller Center which is part of the University of Virginia has invited down Brent Scowcroft and Mr. [Lawrence] Eagleburger to discuss the Iraq policy and our present administration, said Steve. "I think going back to school … it's very stimulating it keeps you thinking."

So whether the attraction is the academics or the atmosphere, seniors are finding that colleges aren't just for co-eds anymore.

"I'd recommend living in a college town to all of our friends, they all have different interests, but they will find that their different interests are satisfied in a college environment," said Steve.

Nearly a dozen colleges have built or are building retirement centers near their campus. Many more are conducting feasibility studies.
  • Rome Neal

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