The other day, partly out of curiosity and partly because I am rapidly becoming a man of a certain age, I found myself reading an article about something called a campus-connected retirement community. These are retirement communities connected to university campuses that offer courses and activities for their residents and, in some cases, are located on the campuses themselves.

As a university professor, one could assume, I’d become tired of academic life as I grow older. But I honestly can’t imagine a better place to be retired than near a college campus, especially one as gorgeous as Weber State. And I am not alone. In many of my astronomy courses, I usually have a handful of more “experienced” students.

If you happen to be 62 or older, you’re in luck. Practically any course (or multiple courses) can be audited for a mere $10 per semester. All you need is permission from the instructor, something I’m usually thrilled to give. I find folks enrolled in our lifelong learning program tend to be excellent role models for everyone in the class. Having students solely motivated by personal interest is a nice counter balance when many degree seekers feel they are being forced to jump through what they perceive as some unnecessary hoops. Seeing someone jump through those hoops on purpose can be extremely motivating.

There are also benefits for surrounding yourself with younger students as you age. As we grow older, we tend to see ourselves as experts and become less comfortable learning new things. But when you are surrounded by people for whom everything is new, it gives you some license to experiment. Think you don’t know anything about computers? Take an intro programming course and you’ll find most of the other students don’t know anything either.

If you are nervous about getting back into classes, now is a fantastic time to try it. Thanks to the coronavirus, there are many more online courses being offered. While the interaction online is not the same as in person, it can be a great way to test the waters.

Providing such community education isn’t cheap, but in addition to tuition and fees, Weber State receives about 40% of its revenue from state appropriations. While part of that represents a subsidy for the education of traditional students, it also supports the university as a cultural center. Weber State hosts public events, many of them free or very low cost, in the arts and sciences. It helps to support sporting events. The university partners with local groups in everything from city energy planning to community gardens. The same is true of the network of other university and colleges throughout the area. Whether you are learning astronomy or welding, those faculty and students are providing services to the community well beyond the classroom.

Those state funds also go to support our lifelong learning program. I suspect people who’ve been paying Utah taxes for years don’t mind this at all.

If you are under 62, there’s no reason you can’t enroll in classes, too. Granted, you’ll be paying full in-state tuition, but considering what some dole out for a ski pass, you might find it quite affordable.

When I think of my vision of the modern university, workplace and professional training are a large part of the picture. But perhaps more importantly are the benefits from having a broad spectrum of local experts who can help people continue learning throughout their entire lives. Whether you are taking a drawing class as part of our lifelong learning program, paying full freight for an observational astronomy class “just for fun” in your 40s, or visiting campus to attend one of the numerous seminars or performances, there is a place for you at Weber State. It is truly a community resource.

I can imagine when I’m older and don’t feel like driving anymore — or worse they won’t let me — I can live in a condo near the bus rapid transit line to Weber State and spend my days perusing the library and auditing courses across campus in every subject I can possibly think of.

Who knows, by the time I’m ready there might be a campus-connected community at Weber State, so I can skip the bus and live right on site. Maybe someone with the proper background will read this column and look into such an enterprise?

Feel free to take your time to explore all of the issues. I suppose I can wait a few more years.

Dr. John Armstrong is a Weber State University professor of physics. Twitter: @ByJCArmstrong

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