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CCV Offers Tuition Waiver to Vermont Learners Over Age 65

  • Judy Munger, left, and Noreen Arnold of Wilder work on an activity together during their Spanish I class at the Community College of Vermont in Wilder recently. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Judy Munger, left, and Noreen Arnold of Wilder work on an activity together during their Spanish I class at the Community College of Vermont in Wilder recently. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

  • Judy Munger, right, watches as Spanish I teacher Malena Florian talks about language structure during a class at the Community College of Vermont campus in Wilder. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Judy Munger, right, watches as Spanish I teacher Malena Florian talks about language structure during a class at the Community College of Vermont campus in Wilder. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

  • Noreen Arnold of Wilder and Judy Munger work together. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Noreen Arnold of Wilder and Judy Munger work together. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

  • Judy Munger, left, and Noreen Arnold of Wilder work on an activity together during their Spanish I class at the Community College of Vermont in Wilder recently. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Judy Munger, right, watches as Spanish I teacher Malena Florian talks about language structure during a class at the Community College of Vermont campus in Wilder. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Noreen Arnold of Wilder and Judy Munger work together. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

The subject under discussion in Malena Florin’s introductory Spanish I class was food. “Te gusta los papas fritas?” Judy Munger asked her conversation partner Raelene Robinson-Garrow. “Te gusta los uevos? Te gusta la cerveza?”

Yes, Robinson-Garrow answered in Spanish, I like French fries, eggs and beer. Then it was Robinson-Garrow’s turn to ask Munger, who lives in Norwich, the same questions. Like the other students in the class, which is held in Wilder at the Upper Valley campus of Community College of Vermont, Munger and Robinson-Garrow, a Windsor resident, were a bit halting as they conversed in Spanish, but as they kept at it their fluency increased.

In a room of about 12 students, most of them in their 20s or 30s, Munger is the only one over 65 years of age. Retired in 2009 from her job as an early childhood educator in the Hartford School District, Munger is there for two reasons: because she wants to learn the language and because she took advantage of a tuition waiver that CCV offers to Vermont residents 65 and older. So, with the exception of registration and course fees that totaled around $85, Munger is taking Spanish I at no charge. Normally, in-state students can expect to pay $223 per credit, and out-of-state students $446 per credit, according to CCV’s website.

Nine years ago, Munger traveled to Costa Rica with a friend but couldn’t speak Spanish. “I didn’t know how to talk and it was very upsetting. I hated being dependent on someone else,” said Munger. She’s determined not to let that happen again, which is why she signed up for the class. She has also taken classes through ILEAD (Institute for Lifelong Education at Dartmouth).

“I always look at brochures from different classes,” she said. “When I see something I always wanted to learn, I sign up.”

The tuition waiver to students older than 65 is a Vermont state colleges policy, said Joyce Judy, the president of CCV. There are, she said, a few caveats: a tuition-waiver student can’t take preference over a paying student. Such instances are rare, however, and most of the time students over 65 are able to enroll without difficulty.

“One of the things we see with having seniors in class is the richness they bring to the class, the life experience they can bring,” Judy said in a phone interview from Montpelier, where CCV headquarters are based. Why a waiver? “Many seniors are on fixed income, or feel they don’t have the discretionary income to spend,” she said.

With people living longer, senior is a relative term. Many baby boomers continue to work past 65 because they want to, need income or want to acquire new skills. “As people are working longer,” Judy said, “you keep your skills current, to keep your mind going, to keep yourself employable. ... Because of that you can see why it’s not about having old people in class. It’s about people who want to be lifelong learners.”

Out of a statewide student population of some 7,000, Judy said, there are 58 students older than 65 who are enrolled in classes at the 12 CCV campuses throughout the state. The majority of these older students take classes at the Rutland and Winooski campuses.

William Wargo, a South Burlington resident who teaches Public Health Law and Ethics at the University of Vermont, has also taught and taken classes at the CCV campus in Winooski. Although he’d taught numerous classes at CCV in such diverse subjects as history, constitutional law, bioethics, sociology and literature, he wrote in an email, he hadn’t taken courses there until he read an article in the “Burlington Free Press” about the opportunity offered to students older than 65.

“I would not have taken the courses without the tuition waivers,” he wrote. As a student, he signed up for two art classes, a class on documentary film and a class on American detective fiction that was offered online. “I took the two art courses because I’ve always loved to draw and paint, and I hadn’t had the chance to do so in many years. The courses were all great — I would certainly do it again. The teachers and students were all very friendly and enthusiastic; they never made me feel old.”

The fact that Munger is 66 and the rest of the students much younger, doesn’t, she said, “make any difference to me. I’m just loving it, focusing on the Spanish and learning it. It just feels good.”

Having older students in a course changes the dynamics, said Judy, and in interesting ways. “It’s rare to have an older adult student who doesn’t take their work seriously because they are in a different place.” She recalled sitting in on a class about the Mideast, in which the oldest student in the class was in her late 80s. “Here’s a woman who lived through World War II and could give such a different perspective to students for whom JFK’s assassination was ancient history,” Judy said.

For her part, Munger respects the students she has met because a number of them are parents who come after work, and the others are carrying big course loads. When this class is finished she will probably sign up for the next level of Spanish instruction, and she’d like to travel one day to Cuba and South America. “I think, realistically, I’m not sure I’ll be able to speak (Spanish) fluently, but I’d love to have a conversation with people who don’t speak English.”

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.