Senior scholars enjoy college learning stress-free
Mae Pasquariello doesn't have anxiety dreams about hourly exams, finals, or overdue papers. She doesn't worry about grades, or even class participation.
It could be because the 78-year-old earned her bachelor's degree in economics back when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president.
Yet Pasquariello is still in school - actually, at the same Ivy League campus in Philadelphia. It's just that this time around, she's taking classes as a senior auditor. That means she gets all the perks of a University of Pennsylvania classroom with none of the pressure.
"It's so liberating just to be concerned with learning," Pasquariello says. Senior auditors don't take tests, and they aren't allowed to speak up in class unless they're invited. They just get to sit back and enjoy being educated for education's sake.
These "silver scholars" are part of a growing movement. An estimated 60 percent of American colleges are offering some kind of auditing opportunities for those typically no longer on the sunny side of 60, and according to the National Association of Continuing University Education, it's rising in popularity.
Besides Penn, Temple has an auditing program for alumni and spouses that has seen a 40 percent jump in enrollment since last year. This semester, 170 are taking classes.
At Villanova's Senior Citizens Personal Enrichment Program, enrollment is at 95 this semester, up from 60 auditors at the same time last year.
And at Rutgers University, this year there are 384 auditors at the New Brunswick campus. And Newark and Camden's enrollments are climbing steadily, according to program administrator Kay Schechter, a trend she attributes to word-of-mouth endorsements and a more aggressive information campaign.
Penn's Senior Auditing Program started in the 1970s as a noncredit offering open only to retired Philadelphia schoolteachers. The program soon expanded to include anyone older than 65, and each course cost $50.
These days classes cost $500 a course - all of it goes toward funding scholarships for undergraduates in the College of Liberal and Professional Studies - and about 160 seniors are enrolled.
For people like Pasquariello, it's still a bargain.
The Bala Cynwyd woman has always had a passion for education. She originally got her undergraduate degree from Penn in 1953, but she later earned two master's degrees from Temple and St. Joseph's.
"I got married and had three kids, but something was missing. I broke the unspoken suburban code of the 1950s when I was restless as a homemaker," she said. "Continuing my education saved me."
First she became a teacher for students with long-term hospital stays, then she was a guidance counselor.
Still not satisfied, Pasquariello started taking additional courses at Penn. Over the last 30 years, she has studied women and religion, Italian cuisine and culture, 20th-century American poetry. She even took a course about gun control that had her practicing on a shooting range.
"I'm committed to being a lifelong learner. I'll be doing this as long as I can walk into a classroom."
A 2007 study by the Education Resources Information Center based in Washington showed this age group comprises enthusiastic learners. Input from 135 college faculty members teaching classes audited by older adults showed the seniors were conscientious, motivated, and engaged. They also earned high grades for their attendance.
At 86, Leonard Feldman might be expected to bask in leisure. Instead, the CPA is managing a daily workload at the Morris J. Cohen & Co. accounting firm in Center City.
And then there's his student life.
The Penn campus is familiar to Feldman, who was an English and journalism major there, getting his undergradaute degree in 1947 after he served in World War II. He also earned a master's in business administration at Penn in 1949.