Coming back for more

For some, three graduate degrees would serve as reason enough to never step foot into a classroom again. But for 63-year-old David Lehrman, going to class is still just part of the daily grind.

But the former attorney has not taken up a professorship at any of GW’s schools. Instead, he’s just another student – albeit an older one – taking classes through GW’s Alumni Course Audit Program.

Lehrman, currently a member of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, is one of 216 adult students participating in this semester’s program. For a small fee, the program allows all GW alumni and D.C. residents over the age of 60 the chance to enroll in as many classes as desired at the University on a not-for-credit basis. Having already taken 11 classes in writing, Lehrman said he is taking on a full workload with four classes this semester, all within the English department.

“It’s to actually see, can the leopard change his spots? Can you take a person of my age, retired, set in his ways, can you actually take the skill, like the way you write, and make it better?” Lerhman said.

The cost for auditing classes depends on age, University Registrar Elizabeth Amundson said. Alumni under 60 are charged $125 per course, while those older pay $65 per course. Laboratory fees are assessed on a case-by-case basis and are charged separately, she said.

Registering to audit a course is a fairly simple process. Before each semester begins, departments from each school provide a list of courses that will be made available to prospective auditors, said Director of Alumni Benefits and Outreach Kevin Corbett. Anyone who wants to audit needs the course instructor’s approval, which can be gained through the registration process, he said. If a course is not listed, auditors may still be able to register with the permission of the instructor.

After becoming disillusioned with what he described as the stultifying nature of the legal profession, Lehrman said he wanted to return to school to take English classes with the ambition of rewriting the autobiography he has already penned.

“You had enough motivation to learn how to write like a lawyer [in law school]. They now have 300-word sentences with so many clauses, so much rigidity… I want to tell my story but I want to tell it with better words than I would otherwise,” Lehrman said.

Retirees are not the only ones benefiting from the program. Of the alumni who participate, more than half are between 20 and 39, and 27 percent are between 20 and 29, Corbett said.

One of these students is Blair Milo, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during the day who audits legislative affairs classes at night. Milo said she hopes to apply her experience in both arenas to public relations, and said the program has benefited her in a way that her undergraduate years at GW did not.

“I’ve appreciated feeling like the administration really is trying to look out for the best interests of all the students to help them succeed, which is something I didn’t necessarily get from my undergraduate experience,” Milo said.

Corbett said the feedback he receives from past course auditors is overwhelmingly positive. He added that in the last four years he has learned that a little more than 20 percent of alumni in the course auditing program have audited more than one course.

In Lehrman’s view, the experience has been worth his time. Though he is considerably older than his classmates, he feels that being a student a second time around has given him the chance to start a new chapter in his life, a chapter that he intends to keep writing – literally.

“Like Madonna, you have to reinvent yourself. A cone-shaped bra wouldn’t work for me too well, though, so you decide to set a medium-range goal, a long-term goal and give yourself a challenge.”

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