Learning just for the sake of learning

Hannah Sparling and Hannah Sparling

For some, learning doesn’t involve tuition, tests, exams and high levels of stress – instead, it is all about fun.

A program called Senior Adult Grants for Education allows people over the age of 60 to attend University classes without paying tuition. SAGE students do have to pay for their books and any special class fees, but other than that there are really no costs, said Stan Lewis, Director of Adult Learner Services and Evening Credit Programs at the University. Each SAGE student is also given a University e-mail account, a free parking pass and library access.

SAGE officially exists because it is mandated by the Ohio code. According to the code, state colleges and universities must allow people over the age of 60 who have been residents of Ohio for a year or more to attend classes free of tuition. However, Lewis said even without the code he thinks the University would still offer the program.

“I would hope we would do it anyway,” Lewis said. “I think the SAGE students really get something from it, [and] it’s a good connection for us with the community as well, to have some engagement.”

Funding for the program is non-existent, because none is required. SAGE students are not actually registered for any classes, they just attend.. The only criteria are the professor has to give permission and there must be space in the class. Lewis said obtaining permission from professors is rarely a problem, though.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever had anybody refuse except if there is no physical space for them to sit,” Lewis said. “In most cases faculty are pleased to have these students in classes.”

SAGE students also do not have to do homework or take tests or exams, but this doesn’t mean they don’t have to do it, Lewis said; they are encouraged to complete assignments to receive feedback. They are also expected to actively take part in discussions and contribute to the classes.

Lewis said about 40 classes per year are taken through the SAGE program, or about 12 to 15 each semester. He said he is surprised more people do not take advantage of the opportunity.

“I would think in this community there would be more people interested in doing that,” he said.

Other than simply learning there are also social and health benefits associated with staying active and taking the classes, Lewis said.

George Clemans, a retired chemistry professor from the University, takes classes through SAGE almost every semester. He said it is fun and well worth the time. Clemans is currently taking an astronomy course.

“The University and the state of Ohio deserve a lot of credit based on my experience,” Clemans said. “It’s like being a kid in a candy store. All the classes I was never able to take as an undergrad I’m now able to take.”

Clemans said he always had an interest in ceramics, but was never really able to pursue it while he was in school. After he retired, he signed up for ceramics classes through SAGE and he now has a ceramics studio in his basement.

“It really gives you an opportunity to explore so many different things,” he said.

Clemans said one of the nice parts of the program is that there is really no pressure, which makes learning more fun.

“When you don’t have the pressure of tests and deadlines, taking classes can bring a lot of enjoyment,” he said.

Clemans said having SAGE students in the classroom is also good for the younger generation.

“Having old fogies in the class, believe it or not, can really give a different perspective,” he said.

Clemans said in one particular class the subject was The Cold War, and since he and his wife actually lived through it and knew what it was like, they brought a whole new dimension and understanding to the class.

“It was nostalgia for us, not history,” he said.

Clemans’ wife, Edna, also takes classes through SAGE. When she was an undergraduate student at Mary Washington College in Virginia there was no such thing as a film major, but now she is able to take film classes at the University.

“Every semester I look to see if there is something I want to take,” Edna said.

She said she really enjoys taking the classes, and does not really have anything bad to say about the program.

“I don’t have any negatives,” she said. “I enjoy the students and I enjoy the faculty members. I really have always liked school, so this is a continuation.”