I dropped out of college in the late 1960s. Dropped out three times, in fact. Looking back on it, this was a stupid move, but it was the Sixties, and I had other things on my mind.
I’d love to go back to college today. Not because I care much about having a degree, but because I would enjoy studying all sorts of fascinating subjects and being part of a community of bright, talented people. The difficulty is seeing how to get there from here.
Thirty years ago, California had a decent, low-cost public university system. Today, due to draconian budget-slashing (for which we can thank the Republican Party), the picture is decidedly more bleak. The good news is, when you’re over 60 you can attend a California State University (though not into UC) on a fee waiver program: You can be a full-time student for something like $4 per semester. But here’s the kicker: Under the fee waiver program, you can’t register for classes until the first day of classes. You can’t pre-register. Given the extensive cutbacks, many of the classes you might want to take (or might need to take as degree requirements) will be full. If you want a better shot at getting into the classes, you have to pay the tuition and fees.
The nearest CSU to where I live is CSUEB, formerly known as Cal State Hayward and lately re-christened Cal State East Bay, or “EBay” if you’re feeling cynical. It’s about a 28-mile drive (each way) on one of the most congested freeways in California. And to be honest, it’s not the jewel of the CSU crown. If I can say this without offending the instructors, many of whom are, I’m sure, very capable, it has less in common with a jewel than with an armpit. CSUEB is like a great big high school with older kids and more labyrinthine academic requirements and bureaucratic procedures.
For me, a big part of the point of going back to school would be to be part of an academic community. Driving 30 miles through heavy traffic in order to hang out in an armpit — let me think about that and get back to you.
Slightly more distant are San Jose State and UC Berkeley. A longer drive and bad parking (Cal State EBay has swell parking) make their communities of bright, talented people less accessible to me. The Conservatory at University of the Pacific is slightly less than an hour away on the freeway, and the drive is not usually congested, but it’s a private school, and thus hideously expensive.
I’ve considered moving out of state. The University of Oregon at Eugene has a vibrant community, and once I established residence the tuition would not be ruinous. [Edit: Actually, it would still be ruinous. The very sensible UO policy is that if you’re a full-time student during your first year of residence, you’re presumed to be in Oregon for the purpose of getting an education, so they continue to classify you as a non-resident for purposes of calculating your tuition.] But my health insurance plan has no coverage in Eugene, so I’d have to apply for new insurance, and good luck with that. Even though I’m very healthy for my age group, a new private insurance plan, if I could qualify for one at all, might cost as much per year as tuition at University of the Pacific. Well, maybe not quite that much, but it wouldn’t be pretty. And if I move anywhere, even to Berkeley, my income from teaching cello, already meager, would drop to zero.
It’s a dilemma. Getting a degree online has been suggested to me more than once, but (a) there’s no academic community to interact with if you’re studying online, (b) nobody offers online degrees in music, because music is about face-to-face interaction, not passing exams, and (c) I don’t much care about getting a degree. What I want is to be attending a university.
If anybody knows of a good music scholarship to the University of Utrecht that’s available for 62-year-old cellists who have no professional aspirations, do get in touch. I’d have to learn to speak Dutch, but that would be fun too.