Contact: Karen Austin, (614) 688-3310

Hundreds of senior citizens learn from Ohio State experts for free

Program 60 allows Ohio residents to take courses on a noncredit basis

COLUMBUS – A program that allows people 60 and older to learn from The Ohio State University’s experts changed Susan Van Ausdal’s retirement plan from leisurely activities to one of cracking the books and attending classes.

“When I retired my main ambition was to wake up in the morning, make a pot of coffee, lie in bed and read the newspaper for as long as I wanted,” said Van Ausdal, who retired 10 years ago from Ross Products Division. “Then I learned about Ohio State’s program, and it has been just wonderful.”

Each year, hundreds of senior Ohio residents take courses for free on a noncredit basis through Ohio State’s Program 60, an outreach program of the Office of Continuing Education. To date, Van Ausdal has pursued her interests in courses ranging from film theory to political science at Ohio State.

For Jose Pria, a retired American Electric Power engineer, continuing his education allows him to make informed decisions about international and national issues. Since joining the program in 1989, he has taken 21 economics courses and 33 political science courses.

“A basis of knowledge is history and what goes on in the world,” Pria said. “Having basic information helps you make better judgments.”

Ohio seniors began taking courses in 1974 through the outreach program, created by former university President Harold Enarson. Since then, thousands of area residents – nearly 200 each quarter – have taken advantage of learning from Ohio State’s experts. While freshman and returning students began classes on Sept. 24, Program 60 participants signed up for classes on Sept. 25-26 to ensure space availability for registered university undergraduates.

Michael Hoza, Program 60 coordinator in the Office of Continuing Education, says the seniors contribute to Ohio State academics as much as they gain.

“The ability to take advantage of the vast resources of the university and the knowledge of our faculty is amazing,” Hoza said. “I think the senior citizens bring a lot into the classroom in terms of knowledge and experience, and as role models. It reminds our younger students that learning is a lifetime—rather than a four-year—activity. They also make excellent ambassadors for the program and Ohio State.”

The program was approved by Ohio State’s Board of Trustees in December 1973. Then, in April 1976, the Ohio Legislature began to require state-supported colleges and universities to permit people older than 60 to attend classes on a non-tuition, non-credit, space-available basis.

Although participants don’t have to take tests or write papers, they can actively take part in the class. This interaction offers a mature adult prospective, says History Professor John Guilmartin. For more than a decade, numerous Program 60 participants have taken his courses on the Vietnam War, European warfare from the Franco-Persian War to World War II, and war and technology.

“They have a wealth of useful insight that you really could not get any other way,” Guilmartin said. “The people who participate are interesting people and are interested in education. It is a nice mix.”

In fact, when teaching about the 1964 election between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater, Guilmartin told the class that Goldwater’s campaign slogan was, “In your heart you, know he is right.” A Program 60 participant said she recalled a different slogan, “In your guts, you know he is nuts,” which was used by the Democrats during that time. Guilmartin said her statement provided a different prospective for the class.

“That is a good example that they add human texture to the course material,” he said.

Jack Isaacson, a retired vice president of private banking at National City Bank, has taken numerous history courses, including with Guilmartin, since joining the program three years ago.

“This program is a wonderful opportunity to further your education and indulge in interests you have developed over the years but never had a chance to pursue,” said Isaacson, who has read history books for years but “never had a chance to sit in a class and to learn from an expert.”

To share classroom experiences and to give back to the university, Program 60 participants established an association in the mid-1970s. The association now has approximately 350 members, who pay $3 annual dues. Last year, the members spent 333 hours volunteering to help the university at events such as WOSU fundraisers, commencement ceremonies and the National Science Olympiad. Since 1995, the association has donated between $500 and $1,000 annually to the Scarlet and Gray Scholarship Fund.

Program 60 participants are not required to join the association, although many see it as a good way to get involved with Ohio State, said Van Ausdal, who is the association’s volunteer coordinator.

Isaacson said he encourages his peers to take advantage of Program 60.

“Everything you learn is something that enables you to be more of a benefit to the community,” he said. “It is nice to be able to use what I have learned to get a better understanding of the world at large.”