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Older Adults Engage Their Brains With Continuing Education Programs

Older adults have a variety of opportunities to seek continuing education, an endeavor that will keep their brains active and engaged. In this report, KSMU's Missy Shelton looks at the program that's available through Missouri State University.

Wanda Huggins has been polishing and improving her piano playing with a professor at Missouri State University. Here’s a sneak peek at what she’s working on this semester.

When Wanda Huggins began studying piano at MSU several years ago, she was in her 60’s. She was looking for something enjoyable to do during the many hours she stayed at home to care for her husband. So, she paid her fees and went to her private lessons. The course requirements included memorizing music and playing it in front of a jury.

Huggins says, “At that time, I was taking a two hour lesson so it was 20 minutes of memorized music for the instructors for a grade. It’s like a final. And I thought, ‘Well, I don’t have do that. I’m a special old person. I don’t have to mess with it.’ But Dr. Su was adamant that that was a part of it if I was going to have piano lessons. I’ve always had trouble memorizing and it had been 40 years since I’d ever tried the last time. The first jury, I really goofed. I just grabbed up my music and said, ‘I’m through trying.’ But my next jury, I was able to kind of stagger through and my last jury, I got all ones and A’s and I was happy with my performance.”

It’s that sense of accomplishment, of learning something new, of having fun that attracts many older adults like Wanda to continuing education programs. Most of us know that extensive research has demonstrated the importance of keeping your brain active and engaged as you age. For many older adults, that means looking for educational opportunities. Missouri State University has the MSU 62 program.

Susan Cohen says, “I’ve taught both traditional age students and adult students. And I will take the older student anytime. They come to class, they participate, they sit on the front row. They do all those things that you want all students to do.”

Susan Cohen is the Director of Adult Student Services at Missouri State and oversees the MSU 62 program, which offers adults age 62 and older the opportunity to take courses for free.

Cohen says, “There was a law that was passed in 1987 that said that state institutions are required to give free education to “senior citizens.” And each institution really has the leeway to put out the guidelines and policies like they want to. We’re in the midst of renewing those now and we want to bring them more up to date.”

Cohen says MSU 62 participants must meet all course pre-requisites and are allowed to enroll only in classes that have open seats.

Cohen says, “Registration is on Friday before classes start and it’s based on class availability so any classes that still have seats available, these students can take them at no change. Now, they have to pay for incidental fees but their tuition is covered under this policy.”

It’s a deal that sounded too good to be true to Wanda Huggins. When she first started taking piano at Missouri State, she paid the tuition herself. Then, one day on campus, she ran into an old friend who told her about the tuition waiver program for adults age 62 and older.

Huggins says, “She mentioned to me that there’s this program where seniors get to go for free, which I could hardly believe but she was right. So, I’ve taken advantage of that since. I think it’s totally amazing. Every time I enroll, I can’t believe it all over again. I just think it’s a wonderful gift.”

Huggins says she feels that her piano lessons help keep her brain engaged in learning new things.

Huggins says, “The music is getting more and more challenging, which I’m glad. Music is a language and learning a new language is one of the things you can do to keep your brain growing and alive so I figure the music language is certainly helping mind. It’s just been very enriching. I feel a lot of growth, personal growth and I’m just really enjoying what I’m doing at the piano now.”

Join us this afternoon as we hear from one retired man who’s working toward completing a graphic design and computer program at Ozarks Technical Community College and we’ll hear about one woman who’s achieving her lifelong dream of getting a college education through the MSU 62 program.