Bob Palter is not what you'd call a typical college student. He
wears a coat and tie, and can vividly recall the poignancy of Pearl
Harbor, watching his uncles and cousins go off to war.
Mr. Palter is semiretired and earning a history degree at the
University of Massachusetts. He's also studying at the Brandeis
Adult Learning Institute (BALI), a new liberal-arts program for
Palter is part of a growing group of retired or semiretired and
highly educated people trading golf bags for book bags. They are
motivated by a love of ideas and a desire to remain as sharp and
active as they were when they attended school the first time
around. With careers and child-rearing behind them, this population
- the fastest-growing in America - has the time and energy to let
new or long-lost interests lead them, and to interact with peers
who share similar goals.
"They're not interested in basket-weaving,... or just rocking on
their front porch. They want a change of scenery and more
stimulation," says Bernard Reisman, who recently retired from
Brandeis University as a professor and is the founder of BALI.
About 300 colleges and universities have responded to the
interests of older adults by offering semester-long programs with
courses in literature, music, science, philosophy, religion, and
history. And some 2.5 million people age 65 and older participate
in a form of organized adult education, a number that's growing,
according to Ronald Manheimer, director of the North Carolina
Community Center for Creative Retirement.
Often curriculum is driven by students, and everyone is expected
to actively participate. BALI and other local programs at Harvard,
Boston College, and Tufts, aim to attract members who will become
"peer mentors," students who take courses but also plan and lead
them. The cost is low or even free because class leaders are
volunteers. In BALI's nondegree program, the 275 students pay $250
for two 10-week classes, which meet weekly.
I always wanted to learn about ...
Palter was always interested in history and film, but he couldn't
squeeze them in as an MIT engineering student. Now he finds time to
read books like "Walter Lippmann and the American Century" by Ronald
Steel, write papers, and research the Holocaust. He says he might
teach high school history after graduating.
"There's a whole wealth of learning that I had never been exposed
to,... everything from the Ottoman Empire to the internment of
Japanese-Americans," he says.
Dr. Reisman launched BALI this year, and it has generated an
overwhelmingly positive response. The program now has a waiting list
for classes, which include "The rise and fall of fascism in Italy,"
"The writings of Henry James," and "Astronomy: An introduction to
the solar system."
The availability of good peer mentors influences which classes
are offered, Reisman says. Class leaders sometimes have little
teaching experience, but bring a wealth of expertise. An Italian
history teacher, for instance, lived in Italy under Mussolini's
fascist regime. …