Older students wade through a sea of twenty-somethings

Some students say they feel old when they get to college. But compared to most roaming Foggy Bottom, some students feel really old.

This semester 355 part-time degree-seeking and 753 non-degree-seeking students are enrolled in graduate and undergraduate courses. Many are not typical college students, primarily because they are much older than most of the 20-somethings who call GW home.

“Sometimes I feel really old,” said Justin VanDyke, a 30-year-old junior, who had some credits transferred from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“I love it here,” VanDyke added. “Most of the time I just don’t think about it, and I go about my business, and my classmates go about theirs.”

University officials said they encourage what they call older, “non-traditional” students to attend classes at GW because it enhances the educational experience for everyone.

“I have always found having diverse perspectives, including those of older students, to be a great benefit in the classroom,” said Craig Linebaugh, association vice president for Academic Planning and Development. “The experience that comes with a little more living often produces different views and insights.”

Linebaugh said non-traditional students are usually people who want to explore coursework to learn more about subject before pursuing a degree; people who are taking classes to satisfy continuing education requirements; and people who take classes for the “sheer joy of learning.”

Longtime Foggy Bottom resident Abraham Avidor, a 60-year-old retired international economist and foreign service officer, has participated in the University audit program for the past two years by taking three classes.

“I’m just trying to become mentally and spiritually rich,” Avidor said. “I like to expand my horizons and improve my knowledge of various subjects.”

Age may be nothing but a number, but with it comes life experience that can’t be duplicated in any classroom, Linebaugh said.

“On a few occasions, I’ve had students in a class who were perhaps 40 or more years older than most of the students, not to mention the professor!” Linebaugh, who is also a professor of speech and hearing, wrote in an e-mail last week. “Their historical knowledge and insights added greatly to discussions.”

The University offers older students two avenues to take courses at GW, Linebaugh said. The Office of University Students offers a program for non-degree seeking students taking classes at GW.

“Students may be taking courses to enhance their career potential or as a matter of personal interest,” according to the office’s Web site. “They may be matriculated elsewhere, taking courses for transfer to their own institutions, or preparing for graduate work.”

GW also offers classes through the alumni office, where GW alumni and Foggy Bottom residents over the age of 60 can take classes on a not-for-credit basis.

“Participation in the Alumni Course Audit Program is a wonderful way for alumni to enhance their connection to the University and engage in a commitment to life-long learning,” the Web site explains.

The audit program has proven advantageous to both the University and its participants. Non-traditional students add a different perspective to classes, and they are given the opportunity to return to the learning environment.

“It’s really exciting and interesting to be back in class and to participate in group discussion,” Avidor said. “The instructors are great and the people were friendly and helpful.”

“The only downside is that it’s somewhat difficult to register because you need to get permission from the instructor,” Avidor said.

The University offers tuition incentives to some of the non-degree seeking students. Participants in the Alumni Course Audit Program pay $125 per course, and alumni and Foggy Bottom residents over the age of 60 pay $65 per course. Regular students pay $1,011 per credit hour.

“It takes a lot to go back to college and get a degree,” said John Sides, an assistant professor of political science, who teaches a class with two students over the age of 30. “One has to be very motivated to do so. It is a rewarding experience though, I am sure.”

Van Dyke said that even though he considers himself in the minority, he does not let his status affect his studying and everyday routine.

Like many students, VanDyke said he struggles with procrastination, and other than the occasional awkwardness of being the only one in a class over age 20, he does not feel out of place.

-Brandon Butler contributed to the report.

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