Wanda Pierce. Photo by Cynthia Homan

My freshman year started out just like any other; scrambling to get my books together and trying to figure out where my classes were going to be, and which absent-minded professor I was going to get saddled with for the duration of the next sixteen weeks, so I honestly never saw it coming. 

But when I walked into my homeroom on the first day of class and saw my 65-year-old grandmother sitting at my desk and batting her eyelashes at my professor, I nearly hit the floor! 

My dear old grandmother had been restlessly moping around the house ever since grandpa got the cancer two years ago and checked out early. Then an old friend told her about free college tuition for senior citizens aged sixty-four and over. She did some checking on the internet and discovered that Oklahoma City Community College (OCCC) allows senior citizens to audit college classes at little or no cost, on a space-available basis.

Dr. Paul Nussbaum is a neuropsychologist who has done studies on how education can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. 

“Learning is a health-promoting behavior that stimulates the brain,” he stated. 

These days my grandmother goes happily off to school each day, eager to learn a new painting technique or dream up a new design at OCCC. College has made my grandmother feel much younger.

If you happen to find your way over to the Fine Arts and Humanities Building and stumble across Professor Fineman’s arts and crafts sections, you’re sure to find Wanda Pierce, a 65+ college student at OCCC, covered in paint or plaster and grinning from ear to ear. Wanda worked as a teacher in the public school system most of her adult life and says that she likes learning and that you’ve “got to keep that mind going, got to keep your brain alive,” (Pierce, 2022). Wanda has taken painting, and drawing and design, and said that she has no intention of ending her quest for knowledge any time real soon, confiding that she just likes to improve a little bit every day. When I asked her what the hardest thing was about going to college, she said, “Cold weather! Some days I just want to stay in bed where it’s warm, but I am always glad that I came to class because I learn something new every day.”

According to the Kiplinger Letter, “The fastest growing segment of the American labor market is the baby boomers” (Vickers, 2015). 

The baby boomers were born between the years 1946 and 1964, a direct result of war. About 72.5 million babies were born in the United States during the “boom years” of 1946-1964. The “boom years” saw America’s soldiers busy making babies before they shipped out overseas to war, and busy making babies while home on military leave, lovers taking comfort from each other in the only way that they knew how in the face of war.

Our baby boomers grew up and flooded colleges and universities across America in the sixties and seventies, spiking enrollment to three-times its size. The ranks of college campuses swelled to some twenty million students nationwide. Today the baby boomers are well into their sixties and seventies, and they are not ready for the rocking chair just yet. 

“The enormous baby boomer (population) …has returned to the community colleges as older adults for additional learning opportunities.”

We are likely to experience a deluge of older students returning to college campuses across America and we should welcome every one of them with open arms. 

Stephanie Miller is a Student Advisor at OCCC, and she encourages senior citizens to pay a visit to the school campus and check out all that OCCC has to offer. 

“We have our writing center and our math lab that can be very helpful to students. We also have computer labs, and laptops that you can check out of the library. And don’t forget to visit our recreation and fitness center, along with our food pantry and clothes closet”, said Miller. 

And if you don’t know where to start, Miller has some great advice. 

“Classes that interest you the most are the classes that you’ll be successful in. If you’re able and willing, and you want to learn something new, come on in and let’s get you signed up so you can start learning.”  

– Cynthia Homan, 61, is a Journalism and Broadcast student who is graduating in spring 2022. 

Stephanie Miller

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