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Rona Barrett: Programs Help Make College Accessible, Affordable for Senior Citizens

My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is.

Did you know that this is a poem by Sir Edward Dyer? Or is it a poem by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford? The Internet poses the question, and various people on the Internet attempt to answer it. You could join the discussion, but why not discuss who the author is and what the poem means up close and personal, say, in a college class?

“Me, in a college class?” you say.

Yes. A college class, and please don’t tell me you’re too old at 55, 65 or 75 to take classes.

"A responsible senior doesn't want to be an (expletive deleted) who thinks wisdom automatically comes with age,” says Ray, an 80-plus-year-old who has taken many classes at Santa Barbara City College. His were not continuing education, senior enrichment or adult education classes, but regular college classes offered to full-time students at full tuition.

For Ray, full tuition classes are a wonderful solution to keep his mind engaged. But what about our seniors who are on a limited income who cannot afford full tuition?

A friend of a friend is a senior enrolled in a Rutgers program called the Senior Citizen Audit Program that permits retired New Jersey residents age 62 or older to attend courses on a space-available, noncredit basis. The only costs are books and transportation.

I’m told Cal State Long Beach offers a Senior Citizen Education Program at a cost of $3 per semester
 on a "space available" basis.

This made me wonder which, if any, of our five major local area colleges and universities offered such a great opportunity for our local seniors.

Santa Barbara City College says it does not offer an audit program for senior citizens, but it does offer "a broad array of approximately 400 classes each quarter focused on lifelong learning topics through its Center for Lifelong Learning" at an average of $5 per hour. (The Center for Lifelong Learning also offers tuition assistance by application prior to the start of each term.)

Cal Poly says budget cuts eliminated similar programs to those of Rutgers'.

Unfortunately, three of the five schools polled — UCSB, Allan Hancock and Cuesta — did not respond. Perhaps they were busy.

But what is it like to be a senior "new kid" in a class of younger, eager and energetic students?

In most cases, Ray finds himself quickly accepted by his younger peers. Many eventually look up to him, resulting in "getting more out of the class than I ever thought possible."

My friend, who was Ray’s screenwriting instructor, told me that for as much as a senior gets out of a class, they also give, "lending a friendly ear, offering real-world perspectives and modeling a solid work ethic."

For a senior, staying mentally active is vitally important. We’ve all heard about the many "use it or lose it" studies that tell us taking a class — any kind of class — can improve seniors' cognitive problem-solving abilities, rejuvenate memory and keep us healthier longer. I call that smart thinking.

Another benefit? The IRS' $10,000 lifetime senior deduction for higher education. I call that smart money.

Until next time, keep thinking … and keep thinking good thoughts.

— In honor of her late father, entertainment journalist, author, senior activist and Santa Barbara County resident Rona Barrett is the driving force behind the Golden Inn & Village, the area’s first affordable senior living and care facility, scheduled to begin construction in early 2015. Contact her at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are her own.

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