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Enrollment in College at 60 Courses on the Increase

Cira T. Vernazza Photo by Janet Sassi

Cira T. Vernazza
Photo by Janet Sassi

The College at 60 program, a Fordham College of Liberal Studies (FCLS) initiative for older students, has nearly tripled its enrollment over the last nine years, growing from 90 registrants in the spring of 1998 to a high of 260 last fall.

The program, which has been in place at Fordham University for more than 30 years, offers noncredit courses to people over the age of 50 in areas ranging from creative writing to art history.

For Cira T. Vernazza, M.A., associate dean and director of the noncredit program, the growing popularity of the College at 60 is no surprise.

“Why shouldn’t it be growing?” she asked. “The [older]population of Baby Boomers is growing, and they are redefining what retirement is. It used to be resting or playing golf, but today it is not a ceasing of activities but a whole new stage of life. Retirees are creating a mosaic of things they want to do.”

The program is known as the College at 60 because of the program’s location at the Lincoln Center campus, which is on 60th Street in Manhattan. The average age of students in the program is between ages 65 and 75, and more than 90 percent of them have college degrees. Fordham alumni typically make up about 35 percent of the students, Vernazza said.

Vernazza, who has headed the program since 1998, attributed the growth in the program to word of mouth, coupled with effective marketing in the surrounding community. She said that the program draws students from the entire tri-state area, but a “significant core group” comes from midtown Manhattan.

The program has targeted its advertising toward grassroots publications such as the Chelsea-Clinton News and the West Side Spirit and has maintained a regular mailing list of former students and people who have expressed interest in the classes. Word of mouth, however, has played a major role in the program’s growth, she said.

“Most of our people are here for the enjoyment of lifelong learning and intellectual curiosity,” she said. “These are people who all their lives have gone to lectures, subscribed to book clubs, volunteered at museums and read the newspapers. They want to find comfortable places to connect to those that are like-minded.”

The program was started in 1973 by Robert W. Adamson, Ph.D., an adjunct professor of philosophy at Fordham, who wanted to provide educational opportunities for people who had retired. Adamson would teach and take courses in the program into his eighties.

This semester, the program is offering 14 courses. The classes are taught by retired Fordham professors and those from other colleges, as well as various experts in their respective fields.

In addition to the course offerings, the program also sponsors a lecture series, which is open to everyone.

With many adult education options available in New York City at institutions such as the YMCA and the Learning Annex, the program has maintained its distinction by remaining true to Fordham’s mission of providing rigorous academics with a liberal arts emphasis, Vernazza said.

“We won’t teach a course here on humor and how it cures cancer, even though some might find it interesting,” she said. “What we do teach is a course on [the German philosopher W.B.F.]Hegel. That pretty much sums it up.”

– Janet Sassi


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