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The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute http://www.clemson.edu/OLLI/ (864) 656-6912 Tuition-free classes at Clemson University Contact the academic department in which you wish to take classes
When George Mitchell walks across the Clemson University campus, there’s a spring in his step. This vigorous 84-year-old is delighted to be back on a college campus — as a student. An often-overlooked state law from the 1970s provides senior citizens the opportunity to seek intellectual stimulation beyond the golf course and the garden — for free. Section 59-111-320 of the South Carolina Code of Laws states that S.C. residents age 60 or older qualify for no-cost tuition at state-supported colleges, universities and technical schools. Senior students can choose to earn college credits, leading toward a degree, or simply audit courses they are interested in, with no grade awarded. For many, it’s a chance to study subjects that weren’t available to them during college the first time around. Others seize the opportunity to explore classes they simply didn’t take before. (Others who may qualify for free tuition classes at state colleges, under separate sections of the law, are children of wartime veterans and children of firefighters, law enforcement and government employees disabled or killed in the line of duty.) Mr. Mitchell, who lives in Clemson Downs, has taken several tuition-free classes in history at Clemson University. This semester, he is auditing a class in the history of Western civilization. “I have two degrees from the University of Minnesota but they are both business-related, and history was not part of that curriculum,” said Mr. Mitchell. “I am particularly interested in the history of World War II, since I was there. The only war history I knew was what happened 50 feet on either side of me. We were too busy fighting to understand the whole picture of what we were involved in.” Mr. Mitchell sat in on a graduate-level history course taught by Don McKale. “There was much sharing and discussion of military strategy and events that I was involved in, but did not know much about,” he said. During one class, a student was discussing the Battle of the Bulge and said that her research indicated the Germans could have been more effective if they had used paratroopers. Mr. Mitchell, based on personal experience, was able to refute that claim. “I said the Germans did use paratroopers, and they were killed as they landed behind our lines,” Mr. Mitchell said. “She replied, ‘How do you know that?’ And I said, ‘Because I was there!’ “ Mr. Mitchell added, “It was not meant as a put-down or an arrogant statement on my part. It was just an overlooked piece of history. From the class discussion that resulted, we all learned something we did not know. To me that is the real value of this type of educational opportunity.” Mr. McKale called Mr. Mitchell a “wonderful ambassador of the Greatest Generation” and said he loves having seniors in his classes. “They bring a rich and intangible life experience that the younger students seem to listen to and appreciate. They offer the benefit of wisdom and sound judgment in a historic context.” Roger Grant, another Clemson professor, teaches classes in the history of railroads. He hasn’t yet had any senior students in his Clemson classes, but did have them when he taught at the University of Akron. “It is definitely something we should encourage,” said Mr. Grant. “I think that as a service institution we should welcome and provide the taxpayers with as much educational opportunity as possible.” According to Clemson University records, only 14 senior-age students currently attend classes under the free tuition program. Mr. Mitchell hopes to audit another class this fall semester, Mr. Grant’s railroading course. Another senior education opportunity at Clemson is “OLLI” — more formally known as the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. It presents opportunities for area residents to participate in classes through paid membership. OLLI classes are usually non-credit, but some can be used for certification. The classes usually meet once a week for several hours, usually during the day when seniors have free time. For the last few years, classes were held at locations all over Oconee and Pickens counties but by 2010, OLLI will have a permanent home in a two-story building being constructed at the new Patrick Square development, near U.S. 123 in east Clemson. Sally Mitchell, George’s wife, who is 80, is currently enrolled in two OLLI classes. One is titled “Eeeek! It’s a Computer!,” which is designed to introduce newcomers to the online world. The other is a popular class that almost always has a waiting list of eager students. It is taught by local naturalists and biologists, and includes weekly field trips to the Jocassee Gorges area in Pickens County. “Most of the OLLI studies are taught by retired professors,” said Ms. Mitchell. “The class is made up of retirees for the most part. We have small groups and full access to the Clemson library, with parking privileges on campus. I feel like a real college student. It has been a wonderful experience for me.” OLLI courses are more specialized and include subjects such as opera, birding, yoga and local history. Several study abroad courses are on the curriculum, taking students to various locales in Europe and Africa.