In the spring of 2018, close to 1,300 students signed up for nearly 5,000 Senior Education classes at Tarrant County College.
According to a 2016 study conducted by the Pew Research Institute, 74 percent of adults are “personal learners,” meaning they have participated in at least one activity in the past 12 months to learn about something that interests them. Eighty percent of personal learners pursued knowledge in an area that interested them because “they wanted to learn something that would help them make their life more interesting and full.”
The study also addressed the variety of psychological and social benefits gained with personal learning. They include making learners feel more capable and well rounded; gaining new perspective about their lives; making new friends; feeling more connected to the local community; and, getting more involved in volunteer activities – all of which are possible through TCC’s Senior Education program.
“It is important to have continued development and learning as you go through life,” said Julian Haber, a retired physician and college professor who teaches in the program at TCC South. “When a person stops learning, teaching or reaching out, they are, for all practical purposes, in decline.”
Lesia Cook, who also teaches in the program at TCC Trinity River, agrees. “Engaging in lifelong learning stimulates our brains and keeps our most important asset sharp.”
Gloria Levengood sees the value of keeping both the mind and the body active. She teaches physical fitness in the program at TCC Southeast. “I like being able to teach and talk to seniors and improve their quality of life through exercise and all the other programs that are available.”
Robert McCoy, coordinator of special projects in Community & Industry Education at TCC South, believes Senior Education makes a positive difference in the community by giving seniors a place to grow and serve. “If you look at our student population, you will notice it consists of persons well into their 80s and 90s. This population not only takes classes, they also teach the classes!”
Senior Education at TCC has come a long way since the early days, when swimming and a course called “The Technique of Preparing Gift Packages” were the only classes offered. Approximately 140 different courses are scheduled for fall 2018.
Swimming is still offered, along with other physical education courses ranging from racquetball to weight training and yoga. Students with a taste for the arts may take courses in guitar, painting or woodcarving. For those who want to learn another language, courses in French, German and Spanish are available. Additionally, courses in computer and internet security are available.
For $20 per 10-week session, students who are age 55 and older prior to the start date of the session may take as many Senior Education classes as they like. This fee includes classes at any campus. Lab fees for computer classes and special event fees are additional.
The Senior Education program began in the early 1970s following a meeting with Judith Carrier, Joe Rushing and Don Anthony. At the time, Carrier, who retired in 2011 as president of TCC Southeast, served as a counselor and professor of psychology at TCC Northeast. Rushing, TCC’s first chancellor, and Anthony, who was the Northeast Campus president, came to see her. Rushing and Anthony agreed TCC (then Tarrant County Junior College) needed to have a program for senior adults. By 1991, each campus had a campus-based senior education program with a Senior Education office and an all-volunteer Senior Advisory Committee. Senior Education faculty also are volunteers.
“Senior Education is a well-oiled machine that operates with amazing efficiency thanks to a host of passionate volunteers,” said TCC South President Peter Jordan. “Our Senior Education students have deep roots in the community, and they add an enormous amount of goodwill to the TCC brand.”
Debra Sykes West, director of Community & Industry Education at TCC Northeast, believes that the Senior Education program is “one of the most vibrant community engagement efforts and a stellar model for the promotion of lifelong learning!"
According to Terry Aaron, director of Community & Industry Education services at TCC Southeast, “Senior Education instructors come from all walks of life. Most are retired professionals who want to contribute their knowledge.” Aaron said instructors include lawyers who teach Estate Planning and Likeable Law and language teachers who teach Spanish and French, among other languages.
“After taking some courses, it seemed like the logical thing to do,” said Heidi Muensterer about offering to teach Beginning German at TCC Northeast. She previously taught English at a language school in Munich and German at Howard County Junior College.
She believes in the value of Senior Education. “The advantages of getting out of our routines as seniors is the key to quality of life,” she said.
Jordan said their office receives constant inquiries from retirees who are interested in teaching opportunities. “They represent a wide array of interests and expertise to include doctors, lawyers, CEOs, engineers, pilots, machinists and veterans, to name a few.”
John Ward is a perfect example of bringing expertise to the classroom. He has more than 45 years of experience in manufacturing management in the personal computer industry, which he applies to teaching Computer Basics and Computer Maintenance at TCC Southeast. “There is nothing like having senior students tell you how happy they are with what they have learned,” he said.
Robert McCoy describes the program as “very rewarding to anyone that has been involved. I have never had anyone say to me that it is a waste of time and that they would never return.”
Julian Haber concurs. “Senior Education creates an active style for learning and living that makes each senior feel more alert, alive, vital and worthwhile to their community. The learning, sharing and friendships obtained are an invaluable lifetime experience.”
Find more information on TCC’s Senior Education Program.