Partnership boosts learning

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Henry Eaton, a retired University of North Texas history professor, addresses a class at the Emeritus College in Room 118 of Marquis Hall on the campus Wednesday in Denton.
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After a class about amazing women from Texas, a group of students drifted over to a restaurant to continue talking about the class with the professor, who could have had a free lunch.

That level of engagement, interaction and respect between students and professors is different than a traditional college setting. There are no homework assignments, fewer classes and a lot of discussion.

The students are all older than 50 and paying to attend the University of North Texas’ Emeritus College, which this semester is holding multiple classes at Robson Ranch and gaining more members and students than ever before.

“People are there because they want to be there. They want to learn, they’re curious and the diversity of classes is great,” said Ken Dickson, dean of the college and a professor with the school. “There’s been a lot of social interactions, too. A lot of people have made friends, have dinner groups or created book clubs. ... It’s evolved to be a more diverse interaction than just going to class.”

Students pay a flat membership fee each semester, and active and retired faculty members from UNT and Texas Woman’s University lead lectures and discussions on topics determined by the previous semester’s students, said Marilyn Wagner, director of the Center for Achievement and Lifelong Learning, which encompasses the college.

When the college started five years ago, it held classes in the UNT Union, but for the past two years, leaders searched for replacement space in the community while UNT renovates the union.

After exploring churches and other entities, they couldn’t find a location to accommodate up to 150 people all day twice a week, until a board member suggested Robson Ranch, Wagner said.

“The Robson Ranch partnership is really an outgrowth of the popularity of this program — we needed more space,” she said. “There’s a lot of handicapped parking, and people can go sit out in the lobby and discuss after class or go grab a drink.”

Currently, there are three classes a day, Monday through Thursday, each lasting 90 minutes. When classes are at UNT, still on Mondays and Wednesdays, 50 students fit into Room 118 of Marquis Hall, with some hanging out outside to see if there’s an extra seat, Wagner said.

The Tuesday and Thursday classes are at the Robson Ranch Main Clubhouse and reach up to 150 people at times for popular topics such as history and art, Dickson said.

“They’re interested in all sorts of topics, and just want to learn and keep their minds sharp,” he said. “It’s not just a lecture.”

The partnership between the college and Robson Ranch seemed natural, as part of the mission of the Robson Ranch community is to further lifelong learning, said Steve Soriano, executive vice president of Robson Communities Inc.

“To us, it’s going spectacularly,” he said. “It fits right in with our program of lifelong learning, and right with our programs of staying active and engaged mentally and physically well beyond retirement years.”

Some officials at the college were concerned about class attendance since Robson Ranch is about 15 minutes away from UNT, but it has had the opposite effect on the programming, Dickson said.

“It turns out it’s a win-win deal,” he said. “At Robson Ranch, it’s nice for them to have classes taught out there, and it’s helped us, too, because when we opened that site, our enrollment jumped greatly. We both prospered from that activity.”

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and viaTwitter at @JennaFDuncan.


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