Wednesday, April 21

More retirees are heading back to college. Here’s how you can, too.

Individuals living on a fixed income likely want to avoid the big tuition bills that can come with going back to school.

Fortunately, there are programs designed for older and retired individuals that let you take classes for a fraction of the costs of today’s tuition.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes, which receive funding through the Bernard Osher Foundation, provide non-credit, non-graded courses aimed at adults ages 50 and up. Its network includes 122 college and university programs across the country.

At Berkshire Community College’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, membership is $60 per year, and classes are $50 each. Like other Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes, the program offers scholarships for those who find those costs too steep.

The school’s program currently has 1,200 members with two full-time staff members. Its robust schedule — including 26 classes in the fall semester — relies heavily on the help of volunteers.

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts, area, where the school is based, is a popular retirement destination for people who love culture and nature, according to Megan Whilden, executive director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkshire Community College.

That has drawn more of those residents to its classes, which are on everything from current events — such as contemporary gender roles, nuclear weapons and gerrymandering and the right to vote — to memoir writing and fly fishing.

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The program also offers day trips, such as previews of upcoming performances at the Tanglewood Music Center or tours of a local dairy farm.

Many of the students are not your typical senior citizens, according to Whilden, who recalled seeing an 85-year-old woman in a Pussy Riot t-shirt during her first week on the job.

“It’s good for blowing up stereotypes, for sure,” Whilden said.

Nancy Vale, 87, a professionally trained actress, has found that both teaching and taking classes through the Performing Arts Initiative at the Institute has enabled her to continue to put her acting skills to use.

It has also helped her grow her social circle after her husband of 49 years, Michael, the actor who played the baker in Dunkin Donuts’ “Time to make the donuts” commercials, died 10 years ago.

“There’s always someone directing something or appearing in something or wanting to put heads together about a workshop or class,” Vale said. “I’ve made a lot of friends.”

That support continues outside of the school, which helped to promote to the school community her role in a local production of “The Vagina Monologues.”

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