For many, retiring means slowing down.
But across college campuses on Long Island, older adults say they are more active and stimulated than ever as they continue their educational journeys and find enrichment along the way.
Through noncredit auditing programs at such schools as Adelphi University, Stony Brook University, Farmingdale State College, Suffolk County Community College and Nassau Community College, lifelong learners can sit in on a wide range of courses alongside tuition-paying, matriculated students throughout the year.
“My age is totally irrelevant — it’s very welcoming and I’m treated like the other students in the class,” said Grace Alessi of Albertson, who said she has been taking courses in philosophy, sociology, psychology and advanced topics in mental health at Adelphi University since 2016. “I just turned 88 in June and registered for September, and I’m ready to roll!”
Retired and semiretired people who prefer to learn with others in their own age group, meanwhile, can become members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Stony Brook.
One of 124 Osher institutes in the United States, the sole Long Island branch provides more than 70 workshops per week on campus — or over Zoom — for its members 50 and older.
Similarly, there’s the Institute for Learning in Retirement at Farmingdale State College, which offers study groups, learning activities and day trips to historical sites and museums.
“I tell people, ‘It’s fine to play mahjong or go to bingo night, but you can also join the program and be nourished by learning, by meeting new people and by hearing another perspective,’ ” said Camille Abelson, 75, of Blue Point, who’s been a member of the Osher institute since 2020. “This is like oxygen for me. It’s that necessary for me.”
DIVING INTO INTERESTS
Within the College of Professional and Continuing Studies at Adelphi, the Community Auditing Program offers graduate and undergraduate courses across its departments to adults 21 and over. For alumni and those 62 and up, courses are discounted to $85 each. Under general registration, the price is $450 per course.
There are generally five to seven seniors registered in each fall or spring semester, with about two in the summer sessions. The most popular courses include art history, marketing, philosophy and languages, according to Francesca Romagno, coordinator of the auditing program.
Joseph Guadagno, 72, a retired treasurer for the Elmont Union Free School District, was on a longtime mission to learn Italian when he discovered the auditing opportunity at the university, where he earned degrees in 1974 and 1980.
Guadagno said he wanted to be able to talk with his Italian-speaking relatives and use the language skills during an eventual visit to Sicily. First registered in 2021, he’s now about to start his third Italian course in the fall.
“I’ve got more to go, but I’m able to communicate now where in the past I was not,” said Guadagno, of Brightwaters. “I have a thirst for knowledge — just because I’m in my 70s, it doesn’t mean everything comes to an end. I owe Adelphi a lot.”
Another alum, Virginia “Ginny” Cser of Douglaston, is no stranger to a late-in-life education, having gone back to school in her 40s, well into her career and motherhood. Upon retiring from the corporate world, she said she’s taken a course just about every semester since 2017 — diving into her passion for English literature.
“It just broadens your world view and for us seniors, it keeps your brain active,” said Cser, who has enjoyed learning among “the youngins.”
IDEAS TO CONTRIBUTE
All the auditors interviewed share the mindset that the courses are for the matriculated students and their primary role is to observe, not weigh in. But they’re encouraged to speak by professors, many of whom know the retirees well across several courses.
“They’ll say to me, ‘Ginny, do you have a comment?’ and I like that inclusiveness,” Cser said.
While always engaged, she said she doesn’t mind skipping the main student requirements. “I do tell them at the beginning: no tests, I’m not writing any essays. I’m done with all that! I’m here for the learning and what I glean out of it.”
Bill Lake, 90, on the other hand, said he chose to take voracious notes, write papers, and stress over quizzes across about 24 courses between 2015 and spring 2023.
A lawyer who retired at 85, he, like Cser, gravitated toward English literature courses — including Romantic Love in Western Literature and Thought; The Structure of Modern English; and the Eighteenth-Century Novel.
Absorbing everything from Shakespeare to “Sense and Sensibility,” Lake, of Garden City, said, “I’m thrilled learning literature, learning about different countries and values … I’m there having a ball. I also liked being in the classroom with the students.”
Stephanie Lake, director of Adelphi’s Criminal Justice Program and Bill’s daughter, said he became an auditor to keep his mind busy after the death of his wife. “It not only gave him purpose, but he really loved it and went full in,” Stephanie Lake said.
Susan Weisser, a semiretired professor in the English department who had Cser and Lake as “senior scholars” in her classes, said their perspectives were of great value.
“They would contribute their thoughts on marriage and romantic love as it related to [literature], and the students really appreciated them. It was just a lovely atmosphere of sharing perspectives and ideas and experiences,” she said.
As for the Senior Auditing Program at Stony Brook University, on-campus undergraduate courses are open to anybody 60 and older — with a cost of $50 per course. According to Diane Perillo-Morabito, the senior director of finance and administration at the School of Professional Development, about 20 people attend each semester.
Rocky Graziano, 71, of Old Field South, gravitated toward the program because of a quantum mechanics course in 2013. He said he went on to audit up to 11 courses there, completing homework assignments and making presentations. He said he also engaged in debates in political science, journalism and environmental courses — and thoroughly enjoyed the company of the younger generation.
“I was there to get educated, to learn about a lot of things, and to be current with what the young people were thinking, so it was the perfect venue for me,” Graziano said. “A lot of people when they’re retired, they just disengage. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It gives you a reason to wake up in the morning.”
‘NOURISHED BY LEARNING,’ SOCIALIZING
The Osher institute at Stony Brook University gives up to 750 active members access to a wide spectrum of workshops taught by fellow members, lectures from guest speakers, trips and special events. The hundreds of workshops, which can range from 75 minutes to two and a half hours, cover such areas as art, photography, reading, writing, sports, physical fitness (including pickleball and yoga), women’s studies, current events, history, and TV and film analysis.
During the pandemic, the Long Island location became one of the first Osher branches in the country to go fully online, according to Breanne Delligatti, the program’s director. It currently offers its programs in-person as well as virtually.
There are no prerequisites to leading a workshop outside of wanting to share passions with peers. The workshops range from “Digesting a Good Book” to “The Supremes (Not the Singing Group, the Court)” to “Am I My Father’s Son?,” a support group for men to discuss their emotions and feelings.
Outside of the learning opportunities, social gatherings are prioritized and its members have built strong friendships as a result.
“We have the best-kept secret in Stony Brook, and we’re looking to get the secret out,” Delligatti said. “I think the real benefit is the camaraderie amongst the members to be able to get together, share their expertise and keep their minds and bodies active in retirement.”
Sue Mruz, 79, of Port Jefferson, began as a member and is now the program’s Executive Council president. “OLLI was like a savior because it’s so social. There are so many people who are home and lonely and depressed, and we have a program here that pulls everyone out of that. It’s just the greatest,” she said.
Abelson said she has greatly benefited from the program. A widow, she said she felt great loneliness throughout the pandemic. It was OLLI’s expansion to Zoom that helped her get through that time leading up to the return of in-person learning in fall 2022, she said.
“I awoke each day, put on my PC in the morning and one after another, I got to sit and watch any number of lectures,” she said, including workshops about nutrition, the history of Great Britain in the 16th century, the plays of Eugene O’Neill and the history of rock and jazz in the 1950s.
“I mean, what an eclectic bunch of workshops,” she said. “I’ve never been quite as nourished by learning as I have here.”
CLARIFICATION: It was not clear in an earlier version of this story that the cost listed for Suffolk County Community College referred to only non-credit courses, and did not include the fees associated with credit-bearing courses.
HOW TO ENROLL
- 62 and older: $85 per course
- Seniors can enroll in courses about two weeks after regular registration to accommodate the add/drop period for matriculated students. There’s no limit to the number of courses that can be audited each semester.
- Fall semester is Aug. 28-Dec. 20. The last day to sign up for a course is Sept. 11.
- For more information, visit adelphi.edu.
FARMINGDALE STATE COLLEGE
- 55 and older: $50 per course
- Seniors can enroll in courses after regular registration to accommodate the add/drop period for matriculated students, which ends on Aug. 27. Classes start Aug. 28 for matriculated students.
- For more information, visit farmingdale.edu.
INSTITUTE FOR LEARNING IN RETIREMENT AT FARMINGDALE STATE COLLEGE
- Retirees or those approaching retirement: $25 for membership, $50 for 8-week classes or $25 for 4- or 5-week study groups
- Groups meet for two hours once a week. The organization is seeking volunteer study group leaders for the fall semester. Class and group start dates vary.
- For more information, visit farmingdale.edu.
NASSAU COMMUNITY COLLEGE
- Nassau County residents 60 and older: free
- As all auditing opportunities are on a space-available basis, they’re limited to two observers per course. The deadline to register is Aug. 21. The fall semester starts on Sept. 1.
- For more information, visit ncc.edu.
STONY BROOK UNIVERSITY
- 60 and older: $50 per course
- Seniors can enroll in courses 10 days after regular registration to accommodate the add/drop period for matriculated students. The maximum amount of courses an auditor can register for is three. Fall semester starts the first week of September. Registration begins Sept. 5.
- For more information, visit stonybrook.edu.
OSHER LIFELONG LEARNING INSTITUTE AT STONY BROOK UNIVERSITY
- 50 and older: $325 for an annual membership (September-November, February-May, plus a summer session June-July) or $165 for term membership
- Retirees and semiretirees can register year-round.
- For more information, visit stonybrook.edu.
SUFFOLK COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE
- Suffolk County residents 60 and older: Credit-bearing classes are free, with required fees; non-credit classes are $29 per course
- Fall semester starts Aug. 30. Seniors can complete the course registration process for course audits on Sept. 6.
- For more information, visit ce.sunysuffolk.edu.
— Kevin J. Redding