Get the over 60 generation into degree-granting college programs, and don’t treat them as appendages to community life.

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College-age students today have a 50 percent chance to live to 100, but our culture is not ready for the changes and opportunities it will bring. Especially in education.

 Students getting degrees, working, starting families and then retiring in their 60s will go the way of the rotary phone. 

 Multiple careers are increasingly evident, yet our youth-oriented culture tends to push mature folks into the woodwork and, finally, shuffles them into the corners of society.

 A force for change should involve our universities, sometimes considered “the last bastion of age segregation.”  

 A “third-age” education movement began in France in 1973 to stimulate gray panthers’ intellectual curiosity and to desegregate universities. It spread throughout Europe.   In Greece, an 84-year-old retiree just got accepted into a Cretan university and starts classes this fall. British universities provide access to seniors through a variety of “third-age” programs to keep them actively learning and socially engaged — everything from salsa dancing and cooking classes to more serious courses.

Perhaps no single country handles its graying students better than China. In 1983, the country opened its first school for the elderly; now more than 70,000 exist. They serve 3 million Chinese, or roughly 3 percent of the country’s over-65 population.   Many of these schools utilize the space and resources of existing higher-education facilities. 

 The lesson for us: mimic this engaging success, get the over-60 generation into degree-granting programs and don’t treat them as appendages to community life.  

 Segregated universities breed distorted views and dangerous myths. Not long ago someone sent us an email asking whether it’s true public colleges will soon stop admitting white people.

 The University of Washington and other public universities accept older “access students” to attend UW classes for very little money. So a base exists to build upon.

 Opening the spigot to gray panthers in higher education can lift enrollment figures for the humanities in higher education, as a recent Seattle Times article decried. 

Some older Republicans tend to dislike colleges, finding them magnets for liberals with little appeal for the aged. They should reconsider and be the first to enroll.

Mixing college populations, young and old, brings many social benefits, not least of which is to depoliticize campuses, now rived by polarization. Not to mention a lot of interesting conversations and shared wisdom. 

I’m developing study-abroad programs for “adults,” a tiny step, but a way to get them back into higher education. Learning is ageless and timeless.