Going back to school is cool

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Bill Marchese

Charlie Smith of Desert Hot Springs, a full-time student at College of the Desert, is changing careers in midlife to become a drug and alcohol counselor.
Photo by Bill Marchese

You can often find Charlie Smith in the cafeteria at College of the Desert, sitting at a table with his laptop, reading his class notes or a textbook. Smith is the one with the gray mustache and receding hairline. At age 54, he is changing careers while the younger students around him are hoping to begin theirs.

After 30 years in construction work, Smith decided to become a full-time student at College of the Desert, majoring in drug and alcohol counseling.

“There is always opportunity to make a change,” he said, “but you have to work for it. Even if you just want to learn something new, give it a try.”

Now in his third semester at COD, the Desert Hot Springs resident has one more semester to finish an associate’s degree, and then he will begin an internship program in counseling.

Smith is among senior citizens who are attending college this fall, some for career enhancement, some to beef up computer or Internet skills and some who want to stay sharp.

Learning in Retirement

While Smith will be working to make an “A,” other students won’t worry about homework, exams and final grades. These students are age 50 or older, retired and taking non-credit classes for personal enrichment. They share a love of learning.

“They also get out of the house, meet new people and maybe learn a thing or two,” said Steve Manning, president of Learning in Retirement (LIR) at College of the Desert.

Both College of the Desert and California State University in Palm Desert offer courses designed specifically for seniors. Classes are held on both campuses and at the Palm Springs Art Museum and the Palm Springs LGBT Community Center.

LIR will offer 17 classes starting on Oct. 20, each running eight weeks and ending on Dec. 12. Most classes meet for two hours, one day per week at the COD campus. A $50 fee covers up to five classes.

“It’s inexpensive because no one gets paid,” Manning said, “not the instructors and not the board of directors” of LIR.

Student discussion in class is “lively and provocative,” according to Steve Spurgeon of Rancho Mirage, who has taken several courses and now serves on the board for the program.

 “The students all have had careers and have lived life,” he said. They bring a lot into the classroom discussion.

Classes are offered three times a year: Fall (from October through December), Winter (from January through March), and Spring (from March through May). Course offerings change from term to term. Total enrollment has reached 450 students in the winter and about 250 in other terms.

Variety of classes

LIR 17 classes include Short Fiction, Great Literature, the Roberts Supreme Court, Conversational French, Global Economic Issues, Sexual Paradoxes, Women’s Financial Literacy, the History of Palm Springs and other topics.

Leading the classes are current or retired professors, journalists, economists, judges, lawyers, doctors, business people and others with extensive knowledge in their field. For complete course list and descriptions, plus registration forms and information, call or go online.

Information, registration: (760) 328-1207, www.lirpalmdesert.com;  lirpalmdesert @gmail.com; walk-in registration Oct. 17, 9 a.m. to noon at COD; classes begin Oct. 20

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

Like the LIR program, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is designed for mature learners interested in intellectual challenge. Classes are non-credit with no grade, no homework and no exams. There is no entrance requirement other than an interest in learning something new or refreshing one’s knowledge.

Classes begin in late October and November. Since Osher is financially self-supporting, the fee is $150 per quarter for up to five classes.

Osher classes are held at three locations: CSU’s Palm Desert campus, the Palm Springs Art Museum and the Palm Springs LGBT Community Center in Palm Springs.

Morning classes are from 10 a.m. to noon and afternoon classes run 1:30-3:30 pm during the week. Each class is held once per week for two hours. The Osher quarter lasts six weeks.

Osher classes

Here is a partial list of Osher courses: Learning Conversational Spanish, The World of International Cinema, The Near Death Experience, Changing Lanes -- Redefining Retirement, Exploring Yourself through Theater and Acting, 10 Financial Principles for Living a Successful Retirement, Vietnam — the Helicopter War, What’s Going On? Is it Dementia, Alzheimer’s or just Old Age?, The Economist in Each of Us.

A fall catalog of courses is available.

Information, registration: California State University, San Bernardino, Palm Desert Campus; 37-500 Cook St., Palm Desert; (760) 341-2883, Ext 14428, www.osher@csusb.edu