WCC Offers Lifelong Learning Program to Elders

by Samuel Rowland

The Collegium for Lifelong Learning has set out to prove that one is never too old to stop learning. Started in 2003 by Edith Landau Litt of the WCC Foundation, the six-week program meets twice a week on Wednesdays and Fridays to provide Westchester’s retirees with volunteer-led courses in subjects from all across the wide world of academia.

Currently housed in the Knollwood Center near Parking Lot 6, the program is open to anyone over 50, whether they are otherwise enrolled in WCC or not. One day a week costs $200 and going both days costs $400. The program chose to adopt a two-day schedule to accommodate more students, so those who wish to attend both days have to go on a waiting list until the sign-up period has ended. There is also an $8 FSA student service fee, and a $5 registration fee.

While classes range from history to literature to music appreciation, what makes this program stand out among other lifelong learning opportunities, such as auditing courses or listening to the Great Courses, is the focus on socialization. One student said in the fall 2016 brochure that they felt that many retirees miss “the stimulation of a full-time, collaborative working life.”

During the four hour, 50 minute program, there are three 75-minute classes interspersed with an early “coffee and cookies” break and a slightly longer lunch break where students are advised to avoid discussing their children and grandchildren or any discussion of aches, pains and medical treatments. Instead, students are encouraged to chat about what they are learning, according to Claire Ahern, the program’s Vice Chair.

This socialization focus was Litt’s major reason for creating the program, according to Ahern.  Litt had taken courses from Yale beforehand but had found that, despite the quality of the lectures, there was no one to share her love of learning with.

“She would leave class [at Yale] and no one would talk to her,” said Ahern.

Litt approached WCC’s Division of Workforce Development and Continuing Education with the idea, and they agreed to give it a try, initially housing the program in the Academic Arts Building.

The first open house for the program, with only one day of classes a week, was a complete success. An estimated 80-100 people showed up despite a torrential rainstorm, with 71 of them signing up for the initial 10 classes.

Since then, there have consistently been three sessions every year, fall, winter, and spring. The recently finished fall 2017 session incorporated 20 different classes, teaching 225 students.

In spite of purchasing no advertising except a page on the WCC website, brochures mailed to those who request them, and being written about by various news outlets, including the New York Times in a wider piece on continuing education, the Collegium has continued to see success at WCC.

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