Education

Another source of nonemployment activity throughout adulthood is formal education. The amount of formal education attained by American adults varies with a number of demographic characteristics. For example, more men than women have at least a bachelor's degree, whites have more formal education than blacks, and non-Hispanics have more formal education than Hispanics. Married persons with spouse present, never-married persons, and divorced persons have more education than married persons with spouse absent, separated persons, or widowed persons. People living in the Northeast, Midwest, or West have more formal education than those living in the South, and those living in metropolitan areas have more education than those living in nonmetropolitan areas (Day & Curry, 1995). These demographic differences in education are not independent of each other, and many are related to another demographic variable—chronological age. As shown in Figure 11-4, the average amount of formal education varies inversely with

Age Interval (Years)

Figure 11-4 Percentages of American adults in six age groups having attained various levels of formal education in 1995. (Based on data from Day & Curry, 1995.)

Age Interval (Years)

Figure 11-4 Percentages of American adults in six age groups having attained various levels of formal education in 1995. (Based on data from Day & Curry, 1995.)

chronological age. For example, 56.8% of those age 75 and above had completed high school, whereas 88.4% of those in the 35-44 age group had attained that level.

Of interest is the fact that the age distribution of the amount and percentage of annual income after taxes that was spent on education in 1996 had two modes — onenode of $667 (3.62%) in the under-25 age group and another mode of $1,028 (2.44%) in the 45-4 age group (unpublished data, U.S. Department of Labor). The first mode is self—explanatory, in that this is the time (under age 25) when students are attending college and obtaining other enlightening and preparatory educational experiences. Two factors are responsible for the second mode: Not only are many parents in that age group (45-54) contributing financially to their children's college education, but also a number of middle-aged parents, especially women, decide to seek further education when their children leave home. In fact, approximately 17% of adults between 35 and 54 and 6% of those over 54 enroll in college courses (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1990a).

Adult education encompasses more than formal educational experiences in graded schools and colleges. Many community colleges and skills centers offer ungraded job-training programs and courses for adults of all ages. In addition, a large number of universities throughout the world have special programs and courses designed to attract older adults with varying interests. Many of these institutions are also a part of Elderhostel, an international network of educational and cultural institutions located in the United States, Canada, and 45 other countries. Low-cost travel and study opportunities are offered to participants aged 55 and over (and their companions aged 50 and over) in a wide range of liberal arts and science courses. The basic program consists of a stay of five or six nights, three academic courses meeting one-and-a-half hours each weekday, simple but comfortable dormitory accommodations, and some extracurricular activities. Prerequisite courses, homework, and examinations are not required, and no grades or credits are given for completing the courses ( Elderhostel United States and Canada Catalog, February 1996). Courses are ungraded and special efforts are made to encourage students and strengthen their self-confidence. Most Elderhostel students have already had fairly extensive educational experiences, the great majority having graduated from high school and many from college.5

Many other organizations also provide continued learning experiences for older adults. Prominent among these are the Senior Center Humanities Program sponsored by the National Council on Aging, Interhostel, Northeastern Senior Seminars, University Vacations (UNIVAC), the federally-sponsored College Centers for Older Learners Program, and peer learning programs in which peers rather than paid faculty conduct classes. Another educational service for older Americans is Senior Net, in which older adults communicate by computer with a wide array of people and sources of information.

Despite the success of Elderhostel and other educational programs, the great majority of adult students are young. Even the select group of older adults who decide to return to the classrooms, laboratories, and libraries after absences of several decades may find that they must relearn how to learn. They must redevelop the required study habits and skills; control their anxieties concerning tests, term papers, and other required educational activities; learn to seek help from teachers, books, and fellow students; and stick to a schedule that is sometimes demanding. The self-efficacy of older students, and consequently their performance in college-level courses, may be enhanced by techniques such as arranging for early success, having them observe the success of other students of their age, verbal encouragement, and designing lessons and tests that take the students' abilities into account (e.g., testing for recognition rather than recall) (Rebok & Offermann, 1983).

The National Retired Teachers Association, the American Association of Retired Persons, and many other organizations recognize that older adults should not only be provided with opportunities to learn new skills and

5For more information on educational opportunities for older adults, write to Elderhostel, 75 Federal Street, Boston, MA 02110, and the Institute of Lifetime Learning, AARP, 610 E Street, NW, Washington, DC 20049.

further their education but also that the services of the old as teachers of the young should be utilized more extensively. Many retired professionals with time on their hands and an interest in working with people would make highly effective educational aides, tutors, and advisors for young students, Having the old teach and work with the young, rather than segregating themselves into communities populated only by their age-mates, can assist in breaking down the gap and alienation between generations.

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