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One in five U.S. adults take a course out of personal, not professional, interest each year
It was starting to get embarrassing: I’d been living in New York City for 20 years and had never been to the symphony.
I considered myself a well-educated person, read books and magazines, spent hours at art museums. But for some reason, live classical music intimidated me. Maybe it was the tuxedoes and evening gowns worn by the members of the New York Philharmonic, or those mysterious pauses between movements when everyone seemed to know not to applaud.
So last fall I audited a music appreciation course at Hunter College, part of the City University of New York – the first time I had been back to college since I graduated in 1976. I wanted to learn just enough about western classical music to enjoy an evening at the opera or a chamber music performance. I also wanted to finish what I’d started in my first semester of college when I signed up for – then dropped out of – an introductory music class.
About one in five American adults, or about 40 million people, take a course out of personal, not professional, interest each year, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Classes in subjects ranging from computers to cooking are taught at colleges, community centres, libraries and other venues.
Whether the recession will diminish this flow of so-called “lifelong learners” to the classroom remains to be seen. But Sean Gallagher, a program director and senior analyst at Eduventures, a higher education research and consulting firm, expects demand to continue.
“You get a lot of value in taking a course,” he said. “If you take a course for $200 and it meets weekly for eight weeks, that’s a lot of value compared to some other activities.”
Some take classes just for fun, others to nurture undeveloped talents.
Kumar Shah, 60, has taken two writing classes at the 92nd Street Y in New York City since semi-retiring from a career in corporate finance, where his business reports earned him a reputation for a “pretty decent way with words.”
“It suggested I might have a talent and interest in the other direction,” he said, “and maybe a course like this could be fun. It gives me a chance to talk to and be with people who enjoy this activity. Many of my other friends don’t have the same level of interest in reading and writing.”
The 92nd Street Y offers more than 4,000 classes, some taught by leading scholars and writers such as Margaret Atwood.