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CSUCI to Add Seniors Institute

The program will be open to older adults who want to pursue college-level studies without grades, tests or degree requirements.

June 28, 2004|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

Ventura County's developing Cal State University campus is poised to give new meaning to the term advanced degree.

When Cal State Channel Islands begins its fall semester, scores of senior citizens could be added to the student mix, thanks to the creation of the university's Lifelong Learning Institute, an effort to draw older adults to the campus.

The institute is one of 41 at college and university campuses nationwide funded by the Bernard Osher Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit group that benefits educational and cultural endeavors.

The Cal State Channel Islands program will be open to residents 50 and older and will offer eight-week sessions on a variety of topics three times a year. Classes are set to begin Sept. 7 and will include courses on art and design, forensic science, The Great War (1914-1918) and European and American operettas.

"Seniors want to continue learning, but they don't have the same needs as people just at the beginning of their careers," said Martin Kaplan, a retired university professor who is coordinating the program. "We want to keep them in the hunt, so to speak, by providing courses that are meaningful and useful for them."

The first institute was established in early 2001 at the University of Southern Maine. There are 29 at colleges and universities in California, most at University of California and Cal State campuses.

"Each one of the campuses is doing its program in a unique way that serves its own community best," said Mary Bitterman, director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes.

At Cal State Channel Islands, officials believe the institute will be a good fit for a campus that has catered to older students.

The university, near Camarillo, initially was a satellite campus of Cal State Northridge, a learning center with a long track record of serving working adults. The average age of the student body was 35 about the time Cal State Channel Islands was established in 2002.

Even today, in a university system where the average undergraduate age is 24, Channel Islands serves a slightly older population. The average age at the campus, with 1,650 students, is 28 and 62 students are older than 50. The oldest Channel Islands student is 72.

"I think what seniors need, more than anything, is the ability to keep their minds going," said Camarillo resident Vicki Sharp, professor emeritus at Cal State Northridge and a member of the advisory board for the institute. "I think it's a wonderful endeavor."

The Lifelong Learning Institute won't be looking to draw from the current student body. Instead, its aim is to attract older adults who want to pursue college-level studies without the pressures of grading, testing or degree requirements.

To join, participants will pay an annual fee of about $300. That will entitle them to enroll in courses for the fall, winter and spring sessions. They also can participate on a per-course basis for a lesser fee to be determined.

The program will be offered through the university's extended education department, which received a $100,000 grant from the Osher Foundation. University officials can apply for two more years of funding and ultimately will be eligible to apply for a $1-million endowment.

"This is really a big deal for us," said Gary Berg, the university's director of extended education. "All of us in the administration here have been continually hearing from the community, 'What are you going to do for the senior population?' Now we have a way to fill that need."

For more information, contact Kaplan at 437-8583 or visit www.csuci.edu/exed/Osher.html.

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