Philly education reinvigorates baby boomers and seniors

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
April 1, 2016
Erin E. Arvedlund, Staff Writer

Edmund Pribitkin, a surgeon and professor at Thomas Jefferson, is an MBA candidate at Wharton.

Edmund Pribitkin, a surgeon and professor at Thomas Jefferson, is an MBA candidate at Wharton.

Older individuals are reinventing themselves by going back to the classroom.

And in college-rich Philadelphia, they and their tuition dollars are welcome on campus.

Some are like Howard Magen, a retired CPA who audits classes he loved during his original college days.

Others are baby boomers facing retirement who want that longed-for degree before they run out of time, or to stay competitive in the workplace. Take Wanda Amaro, a human-resources executive who is earning her bachelor’s degree at age 53.

Many colleges offer low-fee or even free classes for seniors.

Magen, 84, started taking courses at the University of Pennsylvania just months after he retired in 2002 from a decades-long accounting career.

“I’m not pursuing a degree,” he says, “but I like being around young people and sharing what I know or lived through.”

Magen graduated from Penn’s Wharton School in the undergraduate class of 1953, then entered military service before becoming an accountant.

Today, the pressure is off.

“I audit classes. I don’t have to write the papers, and I don’t take the exams,” he says.

Magen’s first class after retirement was modern European history, and he has taken at least one Penn class per semester for the last 14 years. This spring semester, he’s studying the history of opera.

Penn encourages older learners, and charges $500 per course per semester through its Senior Auditing Program. Those age 65 and older audit undergraduate lecture classes in the university’s School of Arts and Sciences. Once registered, you also get a free email account with Penn. To sign up, visit www.sas.upenn.edu/lps/students/seniors.

Some boomers are putting off retirement; many still have bills to pay (mortgages or their kids’ college tuition). An educational leg up can’t hurt.

At 55, surgeon Edmund Pribitkin is the oldest student currently enrolled in Wharton’s MBA for Executives program. He works as a professor and is academic vice chairman of Thomas Jefferson University’s Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery.

“Compared to my classmates, I’m a little on the older side,” Pribitkin acknowledges. “But there were two reasons to go back to school.

“I run the residency program to teach residents in head and neck surgery. I’ve been an academic surgeon for my entire career. When I got back as a student, now I’m the person who doesn’t have the knowledge, and deal with people who are professors, the brightest in their field. That’s a wonderful experience,” he says.

Also, he says, an MBA will help bring innovation to medicine: “Learning the language of business brings up arguments to help think in new ways.”

His latest class project was a “ZipItYourself” tool to help a single person zip up a dress.

“I pitched in front of the class, and halfway through I disrobed and had a dress on underneath,” Pribitkin says. “You can’t really do that as a university professor, but you can do it as a student.”

Baby-boom demographics definitely play a role in the return to school.

“With the pace of life, and the pace of technology, we need to reinvent ourselves. The only way innovation increases productivity is if we reinvent ourselves,” Pribitkin says.

Amaro is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in human-resource management at Peirce College, and plans to graduate in June.

“My mom always called me her backward girl. I did everything backward!” she recalls with a laugh.

Amaro, who works as an HR administrator at Aria Health, lives in Cheltenham with her husband and has two grown sons and two grandchildren.

A late-stage boomer, Amaro became a wife and mother at 19. She moved up the ranks in human resources at a few different hospitals, and has made it her career for 28 years.

“Being a single parent, my mom could only afford to send my sister to Chestnut Hill College to become a nurse. Financially, only one of us could attend,” Amaro says.

Today, she oversees HR for Aria Health’s system of hospitals, with about 4,000 employees.

“By 2012, I had achieved so much professionally, but I was missing something,” she says. “It’s been my dream to get my degree, and my mother’s dream for both her girls to get their degrees.”

An older student base is the norm at Peirce. For the academic year 2014–2015, roughly 15 percent of Peirce students were over 50, and 45 percent were over 40.

Don’t forget state schools, which also have programs for older students.

Penn State’s Go-60 program, through Penn State Continuing Education at University Park, offers tuition and fee-free courses to those who meet eligibility requirements.

To participate in Go-60, you must be at least 60 years of age, retired or employed less than half-time (20 hours or less a week), and a Pennsylvania resident.

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