University Truly an Institution for All Ages

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If your image of a college classroom still includes seats largely filled by those between the ages of 18 and 22, fresh out of high school or eager to begin first “real jobs,” you might want to pay a visit to the University of Scranton these days. Through programs such as High School Scholars, the Schemel Forum, and Senior Citizen Auditing, the intellectual stimulation of the University is made available to non-matriculating students of all ages.  

Set foot in a lecture hall and you might find yourself in the company of a 17-year-old high-school senior – or a 60-plus-year-old, self-professed “real senior.”

That’s how Renate Fine of Scranton, whose age is top-secret, even to some of her closest friends, describes herself. The German immigrant with several decades under the belt is also “active and curious.”

Fine is particularly curious when it comes to the field of philosophy. Her interest has led her to enroll in class after class at the University, and sometimes it doesn’t matter if she knows exactly what she’s about to study.

This fall, for example, she’s looking forward to a Phenomenology course taught by Andrew LaZella, Ph.D., assistant professor of philosophy, but don’t ask her to explain what that is. She can tell you, however, that, based on the course description, she expects to learn about things that are “extraordinary, eventful and wonderful.”

Fine used two of those same words to describe the University program that allows her to audit courses that have available seats for free as a senior citizen, an opportunity she has taken advantage of every fall and spring for the past 10 years.

Fine also takes advantage of the University’s Schemel Forum, attending the evening sessions of the educational initiative designed to provide intellectual and cultural exploration for all ages. The Schemel Forum also offers lectures and a world affairs luncheon series, as well as field trips to places of interest.

Fine, who completed a business degree in Germany and a teaching degree in New York, from the New School for Social Research, before continuing her studies in anthropology, sees the range of University offerings as a way to keep the mind sharp.

“It’s my intellectual stimulation,” she said. “You need that even more as you get older.”

Dr. Stanley Rose would agree.

The 85-year-old resident of The Hideout, a planned residential community at Lake Ariel in Wayne County, laughs as he explains his reason for enrolling in classes at the University for the past two decades, also through the same free educational auditing program for seniors.

The retired dentist remembers saying to his wife, Marjorie: “You know, I think I’ll take a course and see if the old cerebral cortex is still working.”

All it took was one course, “and I was hooked,” he said. One led to the next and the next and the next.”

Rose took his first classes for credit – that option is available at a reduced tuition rate for senior citizens – and earned good grades. “I decided I proved my point – that the brain was still active – and that I’d rather read whenever I want and no longer take exams,” he said.

Now he’s happy just to take in the knowledge without the extra studying and finds himself encouraged by the younger students around him.

“I find the students very interesting, especially at the higher levels, where they are the best, brightest and most dedicated,” he said, remembering having enrolled in a recent biology class “where one after another announced acceptance into medical school.”

Along with his biology classes, Rose has enrolled in sociology, law and philosophy courses as well, singing the praises of everything he’s tried.

“It’s been a marvelous, enriching experience,” he said.

The same has been said of another program the University offers for nontraditional learners: the High School Scholars Program.

That program, while not tuition-free as the senior-enrollment program is, allows local high school students who have completed their sophomore or junior year with a minimum 3.3 grade point average to take deeply discounted courses that will count toward their undergraduate work at the University.

An arm of the High School Scholars Program is the Dual Enrollment Program, open to local students who have completed their junior year with a minimum GPA of 3.3. Those students can earn high school and college credits simultaneously.

Dual Enrollment is part of a broader high school reform effort, titled “Project 720,” that former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell initiated in 2005. The title comes from the number of days a high school student spends in school over four years, and the aim is to provide a more rigorous academic experience.

To hear Shawn Nee, a guidance counselor in the Old Forge School District tell it, that program offers students a revelatory experience as well as a way to defray oncoming college expenses.

Nee said the Old Forge School District has been sending qualified seniors to the University for such classes for 10 years now.

“Most of our high school kids feel very challenged by the courses,” he said. “The experience has really opened their eyes to the rigor of a college education.”

The students take English and history courses at the University, Nee said, and are excused from those classes at Old Forge but earn both high school and college credits upon successful completion at the University.

“It’s been a great, great experience because our students have been among real college students and returned more prepared for their undergraduate educations,” he said.

Other participating local schools are Dunmore, Forest City, Lakeland, Mountain View, Riverside, Scranton and Valley View high schools. Funding criteria are determined by the individual schools and can include some tuition assistance.

Nee noted that 18 Old Forge students were eligible last year, and in a given year anywhere from 10 to 20 will participate. He sees the relationship not only continuing but growing.

His enthusiasm level for the high school programs matches Fine’s and Rose’s zeal for their continued participation in the senior auditing program and through Schemel Forum offerings.

“I’m going to keep going to the University as long as they’ll have me,” Rose said.