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Education Programs Help Older Adults Engage Their Minds

Research shows that learning something new and gaining new skills are important ways to keep your brain active as you age. KSMU's Missy Shelton reports on a variety of continuing education programs in the Springfield area that are geared toward older adults.

It’s no secret that learning new skills and acquiring new information are key to keeping your brain active as you age. For some retired adults, that process has meant going back to school or participating in continuing education programs.

“I’m delving into graphic design, Photoshop, web design, and Dreamweaver. My field has been in education but I never got an education in anything to do with computers so I figured here’s the opportunity to pick up the pieces from the trail behind.”

Mel Larsen is a retired music teacher who is taking classes at Ozarks Technical Community College in Springfield. He’s gaining the skills he needs to create websites.

Larsen says, “I just finished one for our local dance club and it’s up on the web and running now. Step by step, what I gleaned from the classes at OTC, I was able to do it.”

Larsen has had such a good time learning these new skills that he wants to encourage others to take a look at all the classes that are available through OTC.

Larsen says, “Just keep your eye open on the mailbox because there’s going to be one of the catalogues they send out to people in the community. Go through that and look at the various fields there are to study, whether it be something new or old or whatever. Just call the continuing education office and they’d be glad to give you a hand.”

Another option for older adults who want to learn something new is the Missouri State program MSU 62, for adults age 62 and older. It’s a tuition waiver program that lets older adults sign up for classes if they meet the prerequisites and if there are open seats. This program has allowed Penny Kubitschek to pursue a lifelong dream, a dream that was inspired by one of her high school English teachers.

Penny Kubitschek says, “She really emphasized the importance of getting a college education. To be honest with you, aspiring to get a college education has really been the main storyline of my life. And I’ve done everything I could do to get it. I’ve sat in these classes and thought, ‘I hope these kids appreciate being here.’ I’ve got one more year left and I sit in my class this semester and tears come to my eyes thinking I can only do this one more year but I’m going to do it.”

Penny took college courses when she was younger. She says that going back to school, taking the classes for the sheer joy of learning instead of for a grade has made the experience much better this time around.

Kubitschek says, “Taking classes is what makes my heart sing. To be honest, I think I’m a better student now than I would’ve been at the traditional college attendance age because I’m taking these classes at my leisure and I’m not overwhelmed by the credit hours I’m taking or the tests. I’m really getting the full benefit now. What I’m doing now is just learning things I’ve always wanted to know. That really means more in a way than just getting a degree because you have to.”

There are a variety of reasons that older adults choose to go back to school or take classes. Susan Cohen is director of adult student services at Missouri State University and manages the MSU 62 program.

Cohen says, “A lot of these students come back and want music classes or art classes, just to fulfill themselves. We have a group of six women that comes in every semester and they all want to take religion classes. Language courses have been popular. Some people travel and if they’re going to Italy, they want to learn Italian or to France, French. They’re here now because they want to be here. They’re doing it for their own pleasure.”

Taking a semester long class can seem daunting, even if you don’t have to take tests and do all the assignments. Of course, you don’t have to take a class to learn something new. Drury University offers a lecture series called the Lifetime Learner program. There are 40 programs throughout the year and they’re open to anyone age 50 and older. There’s a small fee to participate. The lectures primarily focus on academic topics. The group does occasionally plan an outing to a concert in lieu of a lecture.It doesn’t matter what opportunity you take, research shows us that what matters most is staying mentally active. The experience will be truly rewarding. Just ask Penny Kubitschek.

Kubitschek says, “I always come out of that registration just ecstatic. Sometimes, I’m so embarrassed about how happy I am. I’ve done the best I could. That English teacher would be pleased, I think.”

This and other reports in our Sense of Community series are online at