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Seniors continue learning through classes, travelcomment (0)

March 1, 2007

By Lauren Brooks

When Leland Hull Jr. thought about retirement, he assumed he would be spending his time hunting, fishing and playing golf. 
Once it arrived, however, the 65-year-old former dentist from Mountain Brook went back to class. 
For the past five years, he has spent a lot of his time in courses at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School and its Lay Academy of Theology.
For many adults like Hull, retirement provides time and resources for continuing education, whether for credit or for enrichment purposes.
“This is an exciting time of life when you can study what you love rather than what you have to do to earn a living,” said Mary Burkhart, who served as Alabama’s Elderhostel director for 20 years and is now the director of Auburn University’s Academy for Lifelong Learners (AUALL).
According to Burkhart, a vast array of options is available for senior adults across Alabama.
“Most counties in Alabama have a junior or community college. If you live in a college community, ask if you can audit classes there informally or if you can have library privileges, which can be such a gift,” Burkhart said. “Almost every college also has noncredit courses that are offered, from art to zoology. Check out community organizations, recreation departments, museums. They even offer educational programs at the zoo.”
Burkhart, who began AUALL in 1990, advocates the lifelong learning institutes located across the state at various universities and colleges. These institutes provide noncredit, enrichment-type courses that participants pay to attend.
“If there’s not something already established, it’s easy to start an institute. It just takes persuading a college to give you a place to meet and most are willing,” said Burkhart. “These are generally self-supporting — the membership fees pay for expenses.”
Although Samford doesn’t have a lifelong learning institute, it does offer several programs, including the Lay Academy of Theology.
Jim Pounds, director of the extension division for Beeson, said the school decided to offer these noncredit, personal development courses after receiving interest from those who wanted to learn without having to pursue a degree.
“We had lay folks, retired professionals and younger adults, who wanted to explore subjects in depth at the divinity school,” he said. 
“We decided to offer courses in church and biblical history, theology, doctrine, Christian spirituality and even Greek. We have all-star professors and they are excited to be with people who want to be here for the sheer love of learning.” 
The classes have significantly transformed Hull’s Christian walk.
“The classes aren’t just lectures,” he said. “Professors allow us to ask a lot of questions. They realize we are there to learn and go deeper.”
Some senior adults prefer to travel farther from home to learn and have educational experiences. 
Burkhart said a couple of groups exists that specialize in such opportunities. 
“If you are interested in traveling, Elderhostel provides educational learning programs all over,” she said. “Trave­Learn is a great not-for-profit program that offers programs — they’re not just a tour group.”
For those who want to pursue or complete a degree, most universities and colleges offer evening and weekend classes and distance learning that cater to older adults. 
While some retirees enroll in classes to pursue a degree, most enjoy the freedom of learning without the tests and papers that for-credit classes require. “There is more out there to do than most of us can find time for,” Burkhart said.

For more infor­mation on the Lay Academy of The­ology at Beeson Divinity School, call Jim Pounds at 205-726-2338


Lifelong Learning Institutes in Alabama

- Auburn University, Academy for Lifelong Learners: 334-844-3102 or www.auall.org

- University of North Alabama in Florence, Institute for Learning in Retirement: 256-765-4862 or www.una.edu/conted

- University of South Alabama in Mobile, Odyssey USA: 251-431-6411 or www.southalabama.edu/casc/casc2a.htm

- University of Alabama in Huntsville, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute: 256-824-6959 or www.osher.uah.edu

- University of Alabama at Birmingham, New Horizons: 205-934-9708

- Jefferson State Community College in Birmingham, The Senior Adult Student Club: 205-856-8547

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