Elizabeth Burke spends hours every week writing essays and studying, but she doesn’t get graded and she doesn’t receive credits. As a PSU senior auditor who graduated many years ago, Burke, 71, is back in school. Not for a degree, but because of a love of learning. “I believe in life-long learning,” she said.
Elizabeth Burke spends hours every week writing essays and studying, but she doesn’t get graded and she doesn’t receive credits.
As a PSU senior auditor who graduated many years ago, Burke, 71, is back in school. Not for a degree, but because of a love of learning.
“I believe in life-long learning,” she said.
Since 1973, PSU’s Senior Adult Learning Center (SALC) has made it possible for Oregon residents over the age of 65 to sit in on any class free of charge. The program had a slow start, with only a few dozen participants in the 1970s, according to Jost Lottes, program director of the SALC. The program has since expanded, he said, and a rapid growth spurt in the last few years has seen the enrollment jump to over 600 auditors this term.
“The growth has been phenomenal,” Lottes said.
Senior auditors take classes but receive no credit and cannot earn a degree. Auditors can, if they prefer, arrange with their professors to have their work graded.
Participants in the program also gain access to the library and gym facilities on campus, and they qualify for an ODIN account so that they can use the Internet and create a PSU e-mail address.
“I usually just take one [class] at a time,” said Burke, who studies English and writing and is currently enrolled in a personal essay class. She has been enrolled in the auditing program since she turned 65.
“I just thought it was wonderful,” said Burke, who heard about the program from a friend.
Burke began her college education right after high school at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pa., but dropped out after a few years to join the workforce. After building a family, she discovered a class correspondence program through Marylhurst University, which reinvigorated her desire to go back to school. Eventually, she found herself working and taking classes for her undergraduate degree at Lewis and Clark College. In 1982, Burke received her bachelor’s degree and then in 1993, a master’s degree.
Most auditors are interested in studying history, English and politics, Lottes said. Physical education is also a favorite, he said, with over a dozen senior auditors enrolled in Gentle Yoga. Auditors must register through SALC on a space-available basis.
“There are two types of auditors. There are those that want it for entertainment, like TV,” Lottes said. “Then we have auditors that are really involved.”
Some auditors choose not to buy books or do the assignments–a privilege of auditing–while others go above and beyond what is expected, Lottes said. “It’s really for fun. They don’t have to do it.”
Burke said she can take only one class at a time because of her full life and grandchildren. Learning, she said, has been a constant thread in her life.
“We learn every day if we let ourselves,” she said.
In a survey of faculty conducted in 2005, over 90 percent of professors responded that they value the presence of senior auditors.
“It’s great to have them because they have life experience,” said Lottes, who also teaches classes with auditors enrolled. “Auditors love it, of course. It’s life enrichment for them.”
Burke said she feels very at home in the learning environment at PSU.
“The students are very accepting. They’re just amazing…. We all seem to be interested in the same thing,” she said. “It’s very life giving for me.”