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East Texas senior citizens discover new talents and sharpen skills


    Barry Jacobs paints during class at Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas. Jacobs, 76, who has been painting for nine years, takes one class every semester to continue honing his craft.

TYLER, Texas >> Thirsty for learning and inspired by a love of history and geography, Karen Morgan, 66, a stay-at-home wife, mother and grandmother, began auditing courses in her favorite subjects for free at Tyler Junior College.

Barry Jacobs, 77, began auditing various art courses at TJC for free at the suggestion of a woman in his cancer support group. At the time, he was looking for something to do after retiring from 28 years in the floor-covering business and 11 years selling insurance.

Betty Knight, 75, a potter and artist, wanted to be with other potters and felt lonely after the passing of her sister with whom she had been in business. Auditing art classes at TJC for free was the answer for her as well.

A state law that went into effect seven years ago allows people ages 65 or older to audit courses for free at public colleges and universities in Texas. But few people take advantage of the opportunity.

Only three people who qualify under the law are auditing classes this spring semester at the University of Texas at Tyler. Since 2015, students who are in the 66-to-75 age range have totaled 55 while 14 were 76 or older at UT Tyler.

Currently at TJC, 33 people in the 65-or-older age range are auditing courses during the spring semester.

Representatives from TJC and UT Tyler see benefits for older residents of the Tyler area and also for the schools from seniors who audit courses.

Laura Jackson, UT Tyler assistant vice president for government and community affairs, said senior citizens auditing courses is a great way for traditional college students to learn from the life experiences of older students.

“It is also a great way for the individuals auditing the courses to not only learn the subject matter of the course, but also to interact with our faculty and learn from our current students,” she said.

Auditing courses, Jackson said, “provides a wonderful way to know more about the expertise we have right here at our fingertips in East Texas.”

Claire Mizell, TJC assistant director of admissions, said different types of students in the classroom always brings various experiences to discussions and it’s always good for the class atmosphere.

Auditing courses, she said, enables older citizens to sharpen their skills, learn something new and maybe discover new interests and talent. “There are so many options to learn something new and all of our opportunities to take advantage of at TJC,” Mizell said.

TJC’s only restriction on which courses senior citizens may audit is that there must be available seating in the class they choose.

At UT Tyler, people ages 65 or older may audit any course with three exceptions: any course offered on an individual instruction basis; any course requiring use of laboratories, computers or studio spaces; and courses offered through the Ben & Maytee Fisch College of Pharmacy.

Older adults auditing classes at TJC or UT Tyler do not earn academic credits.


Morgan, a newcomer to Texas, kept hearing her grandchildren talk about going to college. She wanted to go back to school and found out that people 65 or older could audit classes for free in Texas. One day she went to TJC to check it out.

Morgan took a world regional geography course last summer. She took U.S. history in the fall and is currently taking the second semester of that course.

“It’s really interesting and I absolutely love it,” Morgan said. “I just want to learn. I love learning. It keeps your brain sharp.”

She encourages young people in the class to open up and participate.


Looking for something to do in retirement, Jacobs started auditing courses in the TJC art department nine years ago and since then has taken one art class every semester. He has audited courses in design, printmaking, ceramics, charcoal drawing, painting and other art subjects.

“I keep trying different things because there are so many avenues you can go down in the art department,” Jacobs said.

“I get a lot of satisfaction out of completing something,” Jacobs said. “I am more of an art impressionist than an artist. I try to do the best I can and be as close to an artist as possible.”

Being around young people in the class is amazing, Jacobs said. “These kids are wonderful and an inspiration. There are so many young talented people in these classes.”

Jacobs looks at their artwork and they look at his. “I make an encouraging comment if I like it,” Jacobs said. “If I don’t like it, I don’t say anything.”


Although already a painter and a potter, Knight began auditing a TJC ceramics class last fall and is continuing this spring.

“There’s nothing like other potters inspiring you and you inspiring them,” she said.

Being in a class in which most of the students are the usual college age of 18 to 21, Knight said, “is wonderful because they are full of life and they create all kinds of things. It’s very interesting. It makes me feel so good to be able to create and to be with others that are creating and to bless those I’m around.”

After her sister died, Knight began auditing the ceramics class because she was lonely, wanted to be with other potters and missed the pottery ministry business that she and her sister had. In making ceramics, Knight draws a parallel between emergence of a pottery piece and how God can recreate lives after the loss of a loved one, a divorce or other trauma.

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