Mark Hamilton, the president of the University Alaska's statewide system, has it all wrong. Sorry to say that, because he's one smart fellow. But when it comes to his ill-reasoned plan to quit offering free tuition to senior citizens at the University of Alaska, he's being shortsighted to an alarming degree.
We can think of three outstanding reasons why the university should welcome men and women over the age of 60 into its classrooms:
1. Most of those who are interested in taking courses are not in for a degree. Many already have one or more. Most are not interested in being full-time students, but rather are interested in pursuing one or maybe two courses. And most of these people have been in Alaska a long time and have supported the university in a huge variety of ways over the years.
2. These people bring real-life experience into the classroom. Younger students are provided the opportunity to rub shoulders with men and women from the real world, who have a been-there, done-that ability to test academic ideas with the practicalities of the work-a-day world. This kind of background also challenges professors, some of whom it's fair to say really don't know what's it like in the real world.
3. These senior citizens should be looked at by the university as a long-term financial resource an opportunity to encourage bequests at a later time. Nongraduates of the university who come away with a good experience as part-time students might very well remember the school in their estate planning.
The cost of allowing older people to enroll in classes is minimal. President Hamilton has made a lot of references to rising costs including increased fuel expenses. Good grief. Two older people sitting in a class that otherwise isn't full won't raise the university's heating bill a nickel, or hike the price of keeping the lights on.
They will add nothing to the university's other costs, either including increases in retirement goodies, health benefits, and insurance for the professors or staff.
And let us not forget. Every dependent of an employee of the university is entitled to an unlimited number of course credits every academic year. Free tuition, in other words, for every child of every employee.
But a few older people, mostly auditing a course or two in Spanish or art, as the president says, are too much for the school to bear.
The Board of Regents, meeting in Anchorage this week, should politely tell their president to forget the misguided plan to ban free admission to older Alaskans. Rather, the regents should embrace the value of these senior citizens to the school and extend to them a warm invitation.
Voice of the Times, Anchorage
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