Back to School: Seniors Returning to College

Syracuse, Hunter bring 80-somethings into the classrooms.

ByABC News
October 20, 2010, 5:38 PM

Oct. 26, 2010 — -- It was the first day of class. One by one, students began introducing their name, year and major.

They were a diverse class, with majors ranging from biology to musical theater. But among them, one major stood out:

"My name is Monroe Guisbond. I'm 86 years old, and I'm majoring in life."

A downhill skier for his "whole adult life," Guisbond realized he had to give up that hobby when he turned 80.

"That was difficult for me," Guisbond said. "So now my focus is on learning."

Guisbond is one of 10 elderly students taking Professor Margaret Thompson's honors history course, Religion and American Politics, at Syracuse University.

This intergenerational course is what Thompson would call an "experiment."

The elderly students are members of the Syracuse chapter of Oasis, a national nonprofit organization that offers adult education courses and volunteer opportunities to people 50 years and older.

From yoga to computer science, Oasis members enroll in different courses throughout the year. The cost varies from $7 for a one-time presentation to $65 for a series of courses.

The Syracuse chapter alone has more than 8,000 members, with 1,200 paying for classes.

From San Diego to Syracuse, Oasis has 27 chapters across the U.S. Since the organization began in 1982, the courses have been for the elderly only.

But that changed two years ago. When Thompson was preparing to teach a course on the 2008 election and new media, she had an idea.

She had given lectures to Oasis members, "and there were people there who really wanted to learn about new media," Thompson said.

"The older generation had more knowledge about politics," she said, "and the younger students had the more technical knowledge, so I thought, 'Let's bring them together and see what happens.'"

That course was the first intergenerational class Oasis had offered. This semester, Thompson decided to try it again.

"I knew it was a more rigorous course and not just, 'Oh, let's give the old people something to do," 69-year-old Eric Merson said.