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Local educational opportunities for older people to consider in 2019 in Western Mass

No matter your age, expanding your mind through learning is always a worthy pursuit, and in this season of new year’s resolutions, there’s never been a better time to try your hand at something new. Thankfully, in our “knowledge corridor,” local resources abound for educational opportunities.

Greenfield Community College

Greenfield Community College (GCC) offers many options targeted to learners who are over age 50 – though the following programs are open to people of all ages.

Senior education in Western MassYou're never too old to learn, whether outside of a classroom or in one.One option is the "Senior Symposium," a collaborative effort between GCC and area residents to provide a way to continue your education in a format that best suits your needs, interests, and resources. Inspired by the motto, “you’re never too old to learn something new” these two-hour programs take place from 2 to 4 p.m. at the John Zon Community Center (35 Pleasant Street, Greenfield, MA 01301), individual sessions are only $10 per person, and a full season pass to all eight presentations can be purchased for $70, which includes a $10 discount. Financial assistance is always available.

The first workshop in the early 2019 series will be “The Common Pot: Native Writing and Native Spaces in the Connecticut River Valley,” led by Professor Lisa Brooks on Thursday, February 21. According to the website description, Professor Brooks will demonstrate “the ways in which Native leaders – including William Apess – adopted writing as a tool to reclaim rights and land in the Native networks in what is now the northeastern United States.”

Additional presentations include:

  • Thursday, February 28: “King Philip and the Renegade Skaters Of Warren Falls” with Wesley Blixt
  • Wednesday, March 6: “Architecture and Place: The Details of Eighteenth-Century Connecticut River Valley Dwellings” with Eric Gradoia
  • Wednesday, March 20: “Fungi Foraging & Forest Mushroom Farming in the Foothills of Franklin County” with Paul Lagreze
  • Thursday, April 4: “The Story of the Buffalo Soldiers” with Alyssa Arnell
  • Wednesday, April 10: “Marijuana in Massachusetts” with Bob Mayerson
  • Tuesday, April 16: “Notes from a Contemporary Art Curator” with Amy Shannon Halliday
  • Wednesday, May 1: “New England Takes Flight: 100 Years of Aerospace History” with Amanda Goodheart Parks

New this year are “Senior Workshops,” which are six-session programs and cost $125 each:

  • “The Non-Fiction Film” will be led by Helen von Schmidt & Carolyn Anderson on Mondays, March 11 through April 15, from 1 to 3:30 p.m.
  • “Butterfly Biology and Wonderful Wildflowers” will be led by George Locascio on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, May 28 through June 12, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

According to the website, the butterfly and wildflower course “begins with classroom lecture-based learning and hands-on laboratory experience identifying plant herbarium specimens and pinned insect specimens. We then move our skills outdoors to conduct plant and insect field identification at three different sites.”

To learn more, call Mark Rabinsky, director of workforce development and community education, at 413-775-1611 or find registration links and full descriptions here.

Five College Learning in Retirement Program

Another local college-learning program for older people is through the “Five College Learning in Retirement Program.” There is a $125-$250 membership fee, but an assistance fund is available. A catalog with the spring 2019 offerings is available on the Five College Learning in Retirement Program website. Most seminars run for ten weeks and start in late February. Locations vary but are all handicap accessible.

A sampling of seminar topics in spring 2019 include:

  • “Dealing with Dying & Death” with Jeanne Ballantine
  • “Techniques of Memoir Writing” with Dick Bentley and Nancy Denig
  • “Victorian Britain” with James Harvey
  • “The Lure of Mars” with Martha Hanner and Dorothy Rosenthal
  • “1800’s Massachusetts Architecture” with Linda Honan
  • “Appalachian Food” with Katy van Geel and Nina Scott
  • “Language and Evolution” with Kathy Campbell

For more information, visit the Five College Learning in Retirement Program website or call 413-585-3756.

Categorical Tuition Waivers

If you’re interested in obtaining an associate or bachelor’s degree or enrolling in a certificate program, consider tuition waivers for seniors. The Massachusetts Department of Higher Education’s Office of Student Financial Assistance offers Categorical Tuition Waivers, including those for people over the age of 60; additional qualification requirements apply. Contact the financial aid office at the institution you are attending or plan to attend for application requirements or deadlines. You can also call the Office of Student Financial Assistance at (617) 391-6070 to obtain more information.

MassHire Franklin Hampshire Career Center

The recently renamed MassHire Franklin Hampshire Career Center offers job search strategy workshops and skills training to support vocational goals for those in Franklin and Hampshire counties. Call 413-774-4361 or visit MassHire Franklin Hampshire Career Center online.

Additional education resources for older people

Finding financial assistance for college as an older adult

If you’re currently working, your employer may offer college education assistance. You typically do not need to pay federal income tax on the first $5,250 of assistance, and many employers will cover expenses for studies that are not directly related to your work. Websites like and help students find fellowships, grants, and scholarships, including those available to older students.

Free and low-cost massive open online courses

Websites that offer free or mostly free “massive open online courses” (MOOC) taught by instructors from elite universities include,, and GCC offers economical, online classes for $10 per credit, and hundreds of workshops are available to choose from online at GCC.