According to Henry Ford, “anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.” Simpson University has always been a young person’s campus, but now its youth is based on more than its years.

Dr. Glenn Schaefer, an Old Testament professor at the Redding institution, is launching ‘Simpson University for Seniors’ in an effort to encourage “interactive, life-long learning in a university setting.” The program offers month-long courses that are open to the 50+ public and meet thrice weekly.

Courses are held on the Simpson campus and run concurrent with regular university semesters, but the classes are reserved strictly for the Senior program- no jostling 19 year olds to get the desk by the window! The courses are not-for-credit, and are designed to enhance students’ joy of learning in an authentic university experience. In other words, no homework, no tests and no grades: the pressure-free way of schooling you fantasized about in the wee hours of every all-nighter and cram session.

Inviting seniors to join the ranks of academia is popular at institutions worldwide. Schaefer observed similar programs working to great effect at other schools, and felt that Shasta County’s active retirement community would be an ideal pool to draw from. “If you don’t keep your mind active [as you age], you get atrophied,” Schaefer observes, and he feels the senior community has too much to offer to leave them out of the Simpson family. After an interest survey distributed last spring garnered over 200 positive responses, Schaefer began to craft the program.

He knew daytime classes would be necessary since many seniors aren’t able or willing to get out in the evenings, but Simpson’s busy campus had few classrooms to spare. Schaefer soon realized that the school’s heritage held the answer: chapel time. For three hours a week the classrooms are deserted as students attend mandatory chapel services, which gave Schaefer his pick of the most accessible rooms near elevators, wheelchair ramps and restrooms. Additionally, designing the courses to be recreational instead of for-credit kept the registration cost down and meant senior students wouldn’t have to juggle traditional admissions requirements.

Responses from the interest survey helped him identify what would be the most popular areas of study, though the enthusiasm of those surveyed demonstrated that just about any course-from Hairdressing to the Holocaust- would guarantee a full classroom! Hoping to strike a balance among the areas of interest while maintaining Simpson’s academic identity, Schaefer began seeking instructors for the more popular and plausible courses. (SU’s facilities aren’t quite equipped to instruct students on the finer points of hairdressing.) Drawing from a pool of current and retired SU professors as well as local experts, he soon had eight instructors for eleven courses to spread over the coming fall and spring semesters. “When these [instructors] come on we treat them as contractors,” Schaefer explains, which keeps costs down and allows them to develop their course and teach in their best style, free of the requirements of accreditation overseers. “I wanted this to be as easy as possible for everyone.”

Each course runs Monday-Wednesday-Friday, 10:20-11:20 am, for one month and costs $95 per student, or $145 per couple if enrolled in the same course. September’s offering is ‘Journey to the Biblical World: the Bible’s customs and cultures’ while October’s course, one of the more popular requests from those surveyed, is ‘Fire and Ice: An overview of the geography and geology of Northern California’. In November students can go ‘Beyond the Wardrobe’ and study the life and work of author C. S. Lewis.

There are twice as many courses scheduled for the Spring semester: Simpson furthers its academic clout with courses such as ‘Bonhoeffer and the Holocaust’ and ‘The Protestant Reformation’ while tackling the localized interests of the community through the courses ‘Shasta County History 101’, ‘Taking the Mystery out of the Internet’ and ‘Life Through the Lens’, which helps students improve their digital and film photography skills. Plans are already underway for an art course for the 2011-2012 school year.

Schaefer is encouraged by the amount of interest expressed in the program and began receiving student registrations months ago. “People are coming from all over Redding- but we still have plenty of room,” he promises. With funding for similar programs being cut from state-run institutions, he sees ‘SU for Seniors’ as a public service. “My goal is to keep people active without the fear of failure.”

The student face of Simpson University might look more…distinguished this fall, but you could hardly call it old.

Simpson University for Seniors
2211 College View Drive
Redding, CA 96003