In a classroom in Pearsons Hall, auditor Bob Shamah takes his regular seat at the front of the room, while Jeanne Kennedy and Jay Jablow linger approximately two rows behind the bulk of students gathered, legal pads ready. Pomona History Professor Gary Kates’ Early Modern Europe class begins, weaving between lecture and discussion, and Kennedy leans over a student’s shoulder to read a passage. Together, they follow along.
These three auditors, whether silent or occasional hand-raisers, undoubtedly fade into the fabric and rhythm of the course.
“An older person, often I’ve found, in a discussion will contribute something that none of the rest of the class would’ve,” Kates said. “I really enjoy a variety of ages in my classroom.”
Since spring 2002, the Claremont Senior Center and Pomona College have worked together to create the Claremont Avenues for Lifelong Learning (CALL) program, which allows Claremont residents of 60 years and older to audit courses at the Claremont Colleges free of charge. CALL first began at Pomona and spread to the other four colleges over the course of several years, quickly drawing a large number of interested community members.
“I’m really proud that I work at an institution that reaches out to the community,” said Pomona College Associate Dean and CALL coordinator Jill Grigsby.
The idea for an auditing program was proposed when Bob Lee, a member of the Claremont Committee on Aging, approached Grigsby, a former committee member, about individuals in the community who were interested in auditing courses but unsure about how to do so. Lee wondered if it might be possible to create a program to make courses more accessible to people in Claremont, and Grigsby worked in collaboration with the Pomona registrar, dean’s office and Claremont Senior Center to look into potential options.
The collaboration ultimately led to a program still in place today and administered through the Claremont Senior Center. Approximately one week after pre-registration for classes in the coming semester, Grigsby reaches out to professors across the 5Cs to see if they have open seats in their class and would like to have auditors. Once professors have responded with their preference and availability for auditors, the list of open classes is sent to the Claremont Senior Center to be published on its website. The Center then hosts a registration event several weeks before each semester’s beginning for auditors to sign up for courses.
An average of approximately 110 auditors take courses across the 5Cs each semester. While the majority of auditors take one class, a handful choose to take two.
Though Claremont is a quaint community adjacent to the colleges, its demographic does not fit with that of a typical college town. According to the Claremont Senior Center, 16 percent of Claremont’s population is aging (meaning 60 years or older), a value 5 percent higher than the nation’s average. To this end, the CALL program works to strengthen town-gown relations with the significant senior population by providing an avenue for interaction with the colleges and enriching the opportunities available to community members.
“It’s very healthy to find a mechanism that invites them to take part in the college with us,” Kates said.
While the courses offered through the CALL program vary based on professor choice, a wide range of class types are presented to auditors each semester. In response to these diverse offerings, auditors take courses on subjects ranging from the Physics of Music to Israel Foreign Security Policy, and from Intro. to Nepal to Third World Women Writers.
“We’re always surprised by the type of classes people choose,” Claremont Senior Center Supervisor Jason Lass said.
Though professors may choose if they would like have to auditors, first-year seminars, senior seminars, research method classes and heavily discussion-based classes are generally not open to auditors.
The auditor’s role in class is also left to the professor’s discretion. At the beginning of the semester, professors and auditors discuss what they envision for participation throughout the course. In most classes, auditors complete the reading and are welcome to take part in discussion but are not required to take exams or write papers unless they would like to or the professor deems it appropriate.
However, professors have the freedom to decide how they would like auditors to participate, and the program has seen everything from auditors who simply listen during lecture to those who choose to take exams and fully participate in the course.
Kates has been a strong proponent for the CALL Program since its inception, and sees auditors as an invaluable part of his classes.
“It’s an opportunity for me, as a history professor, to gather in voices from another generation that can add so much to the discussion of different social issues. Certainly on issues of race, class, and gender,” Kates said. “Older people might have a very different viewpoint; even if you’re discussing something in the 17th century, it just might come out differently, and that’s really interesting to me.”
“I think it’s interesting to my students,” he added.
Milt Wilson PO ’49 is one such strong voice. Over the past five years, Wilson has taken ten courses at the colleges and finds that the CALL program is a positive exchange for students and auditors alike. For Wilson, auditing helps senior community members to continue learning—both about the world and how younger generations approach problems.
“Part of being an auditor is learning how learning has changed over time,” he said.
As a rocket scientist and chemistry major, Wilson has been able to apply his knowledge in science classes and finds that his experience is beneficial to both students and professors. Students have come to Wilson for help, looking to him as a intermediate resource, and Wilson has in turn written papers on subjects that professors would like to explore for future curricula.
Wilson has also been able to explore different fields and expand upon his outside interests, citing a History of Musical Theater class as one of his favorites for its interactive, wholly engaging atmosphere.
“It’s exciting to get the experience that we have,” Wilson said. “I never look upon it as hiding in the back row.”
And disappear into the background he doesn’t. Wilson finds that his role as an auditor allows him an important opportunity to challenge and question classes in ways that students often can’t. For example, Wilson often returned his homework in poetry throughout an Environmental Analysis class with Char Miller.
Not every auditor sees their role in this way, however. Kennedy, who is taking her second history course with Kates, sees classes as being first and foremost for student participation.
“I see myself as apart,” Kennedy said. “I find what students share to be very interesting and illuminating.”
Despite their different experiences and interests, auditors are ultimately choosing to take part in classes for one common reason: a love of learning for its own sake.
“You can sit back and relax and enjoy someone for all the
knowledge they have,” said Judy Hillman, who is taking Intro. to Nepal at Pitzer with her husband, Jim.
With this bridging of generations, sharing of perspectives and accessibility to learning opportunities, the CALL Program plays an essential role in enriching the community—for professors, students and auditors alike.