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PAINTER: It is never too late to take college classes

• May 14, 2018 at 3:00 PM

A good friend of mine is nearing completion of a master’s degree. While that might not seem out of the ordinary, my friend, Rick Insco, is 72 years old.

Rick decided to pursue a master’s degree so he can become a licensed rehabilitation and clinical mental health counselor. He is especially interested in working with people who have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms.

All of his classwork is done, and now he has a final internship to complete. By the way, Rick earned a 4.0 GPA in 66 hours of classwork.

What makes his story even more amazing is that Rick spent most of his working career in computer science. He worked many years for Ford Motor Co., as well as for other companies before retiring.

But Rick wasn’t ready to stop working. He had his eyes on a second career. At first, he thought about teaching. But circumstances and encouragement from friends steered him toward becoming a licensed counselor. “I wanted to step out of my comfort level,” he said.

Pursing a master’s degree isn’t easy, especially when you earned a bachelor’s degree years ago. “At my age, it was like climbing a mountain,” Rick told me.

Fortunately, he learned mental discipline from being a project manager, and that helped him in pursuit of his new goal. He is now just about at the top of that mountain.

Rick is among thousands of retirees who have returned to college to gain skills for a second career or to earn credits for a degree.

According to an article posted by the Pennsylvania Agency of Nurses, more and more retirees are pursuing college degrees. Among them are Nola Olds, who earned a bachelor’s degree at age 95; Twila Boston, who at 98 completed her degree; and Allan Stewart earned his fourth master’s degree at 89.

AARP reports that the number of graduate and postgraduate students ages 50 and older has climbed from 625,000 in 2007 to 750,000 in 2011. The numbers are still rising. Colleges and universities have made it much easier for retirees by offering special programs. Online classes are also available for retirees.

According to the After 55 website, the University of Minnesota now offers an advanced career program especially geared for older Americans. Some community colleges offer free classes. Some universities offer reduced tuition for retirees.

According to the American Council of Education, about half of college-going adults age 50 and older attend community colleges primarily for fun, to connect with other people and retool for a new career.

I have a lot of admiration for my friend, Rick, and the other retirees who are pursuing new educational opportunities. Going back to college when you are in your 70s or older is not easy.

If you are anything like me, remembering where my glasses or car keys are can be exasperating, so I can imagine how difficult it is to memorize passages from a textbook. But it is great to hear that retirees want to better themselves.

Retirees wanting to further their education is a great idea. I’m not planning to pursue a second career, but the thought of taking college classes sounds intriguing. I wouldn’t be interested in taking any more journalism classes, but American history does intrigue me. I love reading about past significant historical events. And I still think I can handle those term papers.

The bottom line is: if you put your mind to it, you, too, can pursue the skills and training needed for a second career. Or you could take classes just for the fun of it.

It is never too late to take college courses. Just ask my friend, Rick.

— By Len Painter, Tribune community columnist

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