Phi Beta Cons

Returning to College in Her 60s

Last year, Jane Shaw retired from the presidency of the Pope Center, and soon thereafter returned to college to learn for the sake of learning (rather than for the sake of getting educational credentials). In today’s Pope Center piece, she writes about her experience.

Living close to North Carolina State, Jane chose some courses offered there that most interested her — French history and language. Those courses were, she writes, “carefully chosen traditional courses taught by professors who love their subject and have accumulated a lot of knowledge.”

That’s the way universities originally worked. Students who wanted to learn something would sign up for classes with scholars who were known to be both experts in their field and engaging teachers. Most of the problems we have with higher education today would quickly disappear if that model could be resuscitated on a large scale.

All in all, Jane was pretty happy with the experience. Despite the fact that most of her professors have leftist political leanings, that was pretty much non-issue. “I brushed off a few comments that struck me as politically one-sided, since I wasn’t there to fight the culture wars, but to learn French and history,” she writes.

One big change Jane noticed was that college today is far more lenient and flexible than back when she was a Wellesley undergraduate. Profs are less demanding when it comes to the timing of exams and papers. That no doubt seems more friendly, but it’s probably an important factor in the lack of maturity and self-discipline that employers often complain about in today’s college grads.

I certainly hope Jane will continue taking courses. How about sampling a MOOC next and writing about that experience?

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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