For Seniors : This Senior Class Enjoys Lectures, Dorms and Dates


I can remember the time I flunked physics and had to go to summer school. My 18th summer was ruined. There was no way of making it into a positive experience. But just as youth may be wasted on the young, so may education.

Now that students have vacated dormitories to go home or take summer jobs, seniors are packing their suitcases and leaving familiar surroundings to live like college students.

The 60-plus-year-old student body comes for the same reasons as younger generations--education and a social life, not necessarily in that order.


Senior Summer School Inc., a Deerfield Beach, Fla.-based company, is in the business of filling privately owned dormitories with seniors for four- and eight-week stays including optional study programs.

The company invited me to split a weeklong visit at San Diego State University and the University of Wisconsin’s Madison campus. I stayed in dormitories, ate my meals in cafeterias and went to classes and concerts with the “students.”

In San Diego, where I stayed at a dormitory near the campus, the day started with breakfast at 7 a.m.: hot cereal, fresh fruit, fake eggs, frozen yogurt, gourmet coffee and omelets on the weekends. Low-fat, no-salt everything, but all you can eat.

There’s an exercise room, televisions on every floor--usually tuned to CNN--marathon card games, trips, and of course, classes through a special program at the university’s College of Extended Studies.

Many don’t sign up, including a majority who come from Florida to beat the heat. They sit by the pool, do water aerobics, play Scrabble or just socialize. On my first morning there, I walked past a Scrabble game just as someone put down the word visage, scoring 45 points.

Margot Greene met a friend she had not heard from in 27 years. She put a note on my door the night before classes began, saying she was going to take me to school the next day and not to be late. “And,” she kidded, “don’t make any noise on the bus.”

They lined up 20 minutes early. The lecture was “Women Who Changed History,” and the class was entirely made up of women, many of them widows from long marriages who stayed home with their children and are the mothers of ardent feminists. All were eager to tell their stories.


Hear Sylvia Kopman on the subject of widowhood: “Once your mate is gone, your life changes. You either become an individual again--meeting people, enjoying companionship in a wholly different way--or you can become a statistic, living alone. I prefer to enrich my mind. You never meet men--at least ones that are alive.”

At the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where young peoples’ orange-tinted hairdos got funny looks from some of the white-haired set, I stayed in a large room with a private bath, microwave oven and refrigerator, but no telephone.

Before long, I was privy to the latest disaster. A trip to the Amish country was so bad a petition was being circulated to get money back. It seems people spent seven hours riding on a bus and never saw one Amish person.

Will it dissuade some from returning? Most say no. Where else can you stay for two months and get three all-you-can-eat meals a day for $1,800, or less if you want to share bathroom facilities?

But at both campuses, classes are extra. The cost ranges from $20 for an opera class at San Diego State University to a $150 fee to cover three weeks of lectures on such topics as “The Devil, Women and the Salem Witch Trials” at the Wisconsin campus.

Ed and Dottie Williamson are not coming back. Ed says it’s because there are not enough people his age--mid-60s. It’s not that he does not like being around older people, he said, but “there are too many who follow my ‘more so’ theory: Whatever your shortcomings in your youth, they become more so when you get older,” he said.


Elaine, who does not want her last name used, is not coming back either. She thought there was too much noise at night from nearby State Street, Madison’s main drag, and the trips were poorly organized. She liked the programs run by another group, Senior Ventures, which offers two-week and four-week sessions in six Western states.

But people like Judith Korn, a widow in her 70s, thrive on the program. She’s learning how to use a computer and auditing a creative writing class.

Barbara, 70, said she wants to meet men but she has certain standards: “No hearing aids, no elastic stockings and he has to live through the first night.” She definitely did not want her last name used.

For more information contact:

* Senior Summer School, P.O. Box 4424, Deerfield Beach, Fla., 33442-4424. (800) 847-2466. Other campuses are University of California at Santa Barbara and California State University at Chico.

* Senior Ventures Network, Southern Oregon State College, Ashland, Ore. 97520-5050, (800) 257-0577. Other campuses are Central Washington University, Ellensburg, Wash. 98926-7500, (800) 752-4380; Regis University, Denver, Colo., 80221-1099 (303) 458-4991; Humboldt State University, Arcata, Calif., 95521 (707) 826-3011.

* GETAWAY, three-week sessions of educational programs designed for active seniors in the arts, physical fitness and contemporary issues, Fort Lewis College, Durango, Colo., 81301 (800) 352-7489. Costs range from $585 to $980.


* Elderhostel, the most popular and extensive international network of colleges and travel programs, typically one week in duration; brochures available at P.O. Box 1959, Wakefield, Mass., 01880-5959. Costs start at $300 and can run into thousands of dollars.