Writing in late 1999 for Long Island's newspaper Newsday, Saul Friedman recounted the story of two senior citizens who signed up for a course at a community college. At the first class meeting, Friedman wrote, the teacher intoned: "This is not a course for seniors. Seniors think more slowly and can't absorb at the speed of the other students. I won't slow down for you people." That attitude is diametrically opposed to the spirit which infuses this book. As educators, we not only should accommodate nontraditional students; we will find, often to our own surprise, that by doing so, we enrich the educational experience for all our students.
Ironically, Friedman went on to observe that the community college teacher had been "overwhelmed" by the "unexpected number" of seniors who enrolled in the course. He should not have been surprised. At the turn of the century, much of the growth in education is directly due to increased numbers of nontraditional students. To meet their needs, we need to apply the teachings of "universal design" to education. The Baby Boom generation, a 76-million strong cohort often described as a "pig in a python" because it is so much bigger than the generations before and after it, has already reached their 50s. Over the next 30 years, Boomers will retire and the number of elderly Americans will double. Already, the demographics of higher education have changed considerably. A generation ago, virtually all university students were in the 18 to 24-year-old cohort; today, those young adults represent just over half of the undergraduate population. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac ( August 26, 1998), in 1995 (the latest year for which data were available), 57% of students in higher education were 18-24 years of age, 40% were 25-49, and 4% were over 50 years of age. The latter two proportions will increase, while the former one will decrease, over the foreseeable future. Among other factors driving this trend is the growing importance of information in American society. Increasingly rare is the person