Penn State's Go-60 program proves it's never too late for college

June 29, 2005

University Park, Pa. -- At a time when the "golden years" of retirement have been somewhat tarnished by the challenges of financial security and health-related concerns, Penn State is honoring retired Pennsylvanians' years of service by providing a way to go back to school without worrying about costs.

Through Penn State's Go-60 program, older adults have an opportunity to take college courses for free at many of the University's 24 locations.

Started in 1979, the Go-60 program now enrolls about 95 retirees each year. To qualify for the program, individuals must be 60 or older and Pennsylvania residents, or former Penn State students or past employees who are retired or working less than half time. Enrollment in courses is provided on a space-available basis, and course prerequisites must be met.

"We welcome mature adults into our classrooms because we feel that the learning experience is enriched with their expertise and wealth of knowledge," said Rebecca Beatty, Go-60 program coordinator and associate director of Penn State Continuing Education.

Mary Nelson, 76, started taking courses through the Go-60 program when she and her husband, Eric, settled near Penn State's University Park campus in the early 1990s. Before Nelson's retirement, going to school presented a unique challenge for someone already busy with the demands of work and family. So, the idea of finally being able to relax and enjoy taking courses during retirement was very appealing.

"I'd worked full time at a fairly demanding job throughout my adult life. I'd come home to a big house, children, pets, shopping, laundry, etc. And suddenly I was retired in a much smaller house with no children and all this time," said Nelson. "In retirement, I could go take a course, do my homework and work on the computer. I had all this lovely time, so taking classes was really a luxury."

In May 2001, Nelson graduated with her associate's degree in letters, arts and sciences and served as a department student marshal, an honor bestowed upon the most outstanding students in each academic department.

While Nelson is thrilled with her academic accomplishments, an unexpected benefit of her experience has been her rediscovered love of French. Although she had studied the language earlier in her life, she had forgotten how much she enjoyed it until she took three semesters of French to complete her degree program's language requirement. Now, she delights in its re-emergence as part of her life.

At nearly 80, technology enthusiast Eric Nelson has taken two courses through Go-60, both focusing on Web development languages. Drawing upon knowledge gleaned from his courses, he has designed a Web site that offers advice to retirees considering continuing care retirement communities like The Village at Penn State, where the couple has lived for 18 months. Nelson's interest in technology development -- or "under-the-hood technology," as he calls it -- was piqued in the 1960s, when he worked in the early computer industry after earning his doctoral degree at Penn State.

"I have been unable to lose the curiosity I've always had in developing -- rather than just using -- new systems, and the Internet software courses I've taken through Go-60 have offered a way for me to indulge my interests," said Nelson.

Becoming a student through Go-60 also had some unexpected -- but literally life-altering -- benefits for Eric Nelson. After suffering from cardiac problems in recent years, he started swimming on the University Park campus upon learning his student status afforded him discounted admission to Penn State's McCoy Natatorium. A year and thousands of laps later, his general health and mobility have improved significantly.

A common apprehension among retirees who consider going back to college is whether they will "fit in." Concerns over how faculty and other students -- specifically traditional-aged undergraduates -- will react to having retired individuals in class may keep older adults from enrolling. However, the Nelsons have found themselves not only accepted but highly valued members of the classroom. In fact, they have forged meaningful relationships with students and faculty members alike since starting the Go-60 program.

"Some of the benefits we see are that mature adults help us create a more adult-friendly environment, and provide us with a potential pool of mentors for our new adult students," said Beatty.

The Nelsons both agree the ability to go back to college through Go-60 has added another level of self-discovery and satisfaction to their retirement years.

"The thing about getting a degree is that it gives you a sense of personal value," said Mary Nelson. "I never imagined that I would have a chance to do this, but retirement proved to be the perfect opportunity thanks to the Go-60 program."

For more information on Go-60, contact Penn State's Continuing and Distance Education at (814) 865-3443.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009