A growing number of senior citizens are returning to school after fulfilling their family and career obligations.
In 2008, less than one per cent of Brandon University’s student body – 23 people aged 55 and over – attended classes on a part or full-time basis. A decade later, that number has nearly doubled to 40, or 1.09 per cent of students. Seniors are still far outnumbered by those aged 25 and under, which make up 54 per cent of the university’s students, but this didn’t stop Linda Tame from joining her son at the school.
After raising her family then spending a few years as a receptionist with the YMCA and at the Brandon Regional Health Centre, Tame’s youngest son Jordan suggested she join him at BU’s School of Fine Arts. At the time, she was a 57-year-old, life-long dabbler in the arts with a penchant to fulfill a dream of living a creative life. Tame jumped at the opportunity.
It’s been 10 years and she’s still there.
“It’s been absolutely wonderful, fascinating, fun. Oh my goodness,” Tame said. “I don’t know what I would’ve done if I didn’t have these classes. There are people my age there I have connected with and became really good friends with, but the younger students are amazingly kind. It’s sort of like there doesn’t seem to be an age difference while we’re there.”
Now 67 years old, Tame has taken advantage of the BU’s senior citizens tuition program the past seven years, which sees students aged over 60 pay just $25 per class, excluding books and other materials.
Katie Gross, BU’s Dean of Students, says mature students are entering the school on various levels. Some audit classes just to learn about topics that interest them, while others immerse themselves in their coursework by committing fully to the classwork and seeking a degree or diploma.
Psychology professor Nancy Newall has been instrumental in attracting seniors back to the university by promoting the healthy benefits of learning at an older age and associating with younger people, said Gross. Continual learning has been shown to increase memory skills and helps battle dementia.
“(Newall) really wants students to interact and learn from each other, and she’s done a great job doing that,” said Gross.
“(Mature students returning to class) is a trend that is occurring across North America. Many schools are looking at age-friendly courses, incorporating different age groups and learning styles. Seniors seem to want flexibility, so we deliver the same courses in a friendlier way, and that’s a good thing overall. We should always look at ways to do things better.”
Tame suggests others even thinking about it give it a try.
“If they like to learn, this is what they need to be doing because it’s well worth it,” she said. “Meeting a new community of people is really interesting at this stage of life because many people have developed the groups they’ve chummed around with and that’s wonderful. But, all of a sudden, when you get involved and mesh with a whole new environment, it broadens your thinking and interests in a variety of ways.”