Tuition-free college education at Portland State with free Internet? Yes, it’s true for Oregon residents 65 or over when they register and audit classes under the Senior Adult Learning Center program.
Sorry, for Vancouverites, crossing over the bridge won’t work. But for Oregon residents, since 1973 Portland State has welcomed senior citizens to all lectures and labs. They’re auditors, they don’t get a degree. If there are special fees, like lab fees or PE fees, they pay those. They don’t have priority in a class. If a Spanish class has 30 chairs and 30 tuition-paying students are filling them, the senior auditor will have to seek a different opportunity. But they go to regular classes, with regular professors, mix with undergraduate and graduate students and generally do whatever they choose to fit into the mix.
Currently 202 senior auditors are taking 317 different classes. That is about average for a term, with some registering for four to five classes. Not everybody who applies gets in. Typically, 300 will inquire about registration, but some are not old enough, some not Oregon residents, or some may have disabilities but are not 65 or older.
“There have been 2,200 different people taking classes since we have been compiling records in the late ’80s,” said Arezu Movahed, SALC program director.
The Portland State program can claim to be unique among Oregon institutions of higher education. Since
1973, the State of Oregon has mandated free classes for seniors in all three major universities, but PSU’s program is uniquely accessible.
“Our program is unique where we simply waive tuition for senior auditors,” Movahed said. “At Oregon State University and University of Oregon seniors have to register with the registrar’s office.” They apply for a waiver of tuition and it is granted. But at those other universities the senior auditors have to grind through several annoying rings of bureaucracy.
At Portland State, they simply go to room 470 of the Urban Center, locate the proper sub-office, counsel with staff, choose their classes and receive a yellow registration slip. That gives them their admission to classes, computer labs, library, bookstore member discounts and a host of other benefits.
“We don’t have a lot of financial support by the state,” Mohaved said. A major portion of funding comes from donations by senior auditors and friends of the program. The university provides office space and one graduate assistant, who sees to the mechanics of enrolling auditors. That assistant currently is Joshua
Rowe, a doctoral student in public administration and policy.
Even as the program benefits seniors who want to improve their minds, the program also benefits the goals of the university. One of those goals is to provide community connection and outreach and the SALC provides a conduit for that. Its official designation in the convoluted structure of the College of Urban and Public Affairs is listed under the Community Outreach program of the Institute on Aging in the School of Community Health.
What do these senior auditors do in their classes? Pretty much what they want to. Since they’re auditors, they are not required to take tests or write papers. Many do, anyway, for the educational benefit.
The PSU program is founded on a list of goals, as listed by Movahed. It aims to enhance the quality of life for seniors, to provide opportunities for lifelong learning or intellectual stimulation and to reduce isolation of seniors in retirement.
“We also provide opportunities for fellowship and leadership as well as personal growth within the university setting,” Movahed explained.
The SALC maintains a second program for “youngsters” 50 and older called the Retired Associates of PSU. RAPSU charges $15 membership for individuals, $25 for couples. It meets on campus twice a month for lectures, puts out a newsletter, has two special lecturers each year and is governed by its own board. RAPSU currently counts 200 members.
A question frequently fielded by Movahed would be “How well do seniors mix with undergrads and professors?”
A focus group research program was launched last year by Brenda Sulick, former grad student in SALC who has since moved on to bigger responsibilities as a librarian in the Institute on Aging.
As Movahed described the outcomes, “We found out there are positive effects on feelings of personal well-being. The auditors really enjoy being in class with younger students. They like that multi-generational nature of the classroom.”
Similar research showed equal enthusiasm by students and professors.
“The students appreciate the enhanced structure it provides to their lives,” Movahed said. “The faculty also really enjoyed having seniors in their classroom setting.”
Movahed herself is a PSU product. Originally from Iran, she has been at Portland State since 1992 and became a grad student in 1984. She received her doctorate in Urban Studies in 1995.
Normally, the yellow paper an auditor gets is the pass to all the services offered free. However, if senior auditors want to feel really connected to the student body, they can buy a regular PSU student ID card for $10 by going to the first floor of Neuberger Hall. They need to show their yellow registration slip to qualify.
Getting a free Internet account is even easier.
Seniors take their SALC registration slip plus a photo ID to the help desk in room 18 of Smith Memorial Student Union. There they receive an ODIN account that gives access to the Internet and World Wide Web.
The help desk can instruct auditors how to connect a home computer to the Internet via PSU.
The SALC registration office is normally open Monday through Thursday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. The SALC also has an online registration site at www.upa.pdx.edu/IOA/SALC. The phone number is 503-725-4739.