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Alumni Can Re-Enroll for Free at Upstate New York College

January 23, 1995

GENEVA, N.Y. (AP) _ Looking back on his college days, lawyer Frank Cegelski relives Frisbee on the quad and winter afternoons curled up with a book in a cubbyhole study overlooking frosty Seneca Lake.

Entwined in those fond memories is the realization that the university experience could have been so much better. If only his anxiety about getting his career on track could have been brushed aside!

Now Cegelski, Class of ’83, is being offered what he considers a chance to ``kick back and enjoy college for its own sake, rather than saying `Hey, how’s this going to look on my resume?‴

He’s re-enrolling, at age 34, at his alma mater.

At no charge.

Beginning in March, Hobart and William Smith Colleges are inviting alumni who graduated at least five years ago to take tuition-free classes, for as many semesters as they want, at the scenic liberal-arts campus on the slopes above this Finger Lakes town _ provided there’s room among undergraduates.

The Graduate Attendee Program, apparently the first of its kind in the nation, could prove a shrewd marketing ploy. The private colleges recently started a four-year drive to raise $75 million, and alumni contributions could spell the difference.

``I don’t know of any program that has offered this kind of a compact with its alumni. I think it is unique,″ said Noah Brown of the National University Continuing Education Association in Washington, D.C.

Blending fresh-faced potential with seasoned practitioners who retain a yearning for learning in an academic setting has been plotted for three years. College President Richard H. Hersh said the idea has magic appeal.

``Everybody sort of reminisces about their days at college and wishes they could do something like that again. When I say to alumni, `Well, why don’t you come back?’, all of a sudden their eyes sparkle.″

The back-to-schoolers can enroll for as many as six courses a year; undergraduates take nine. They cannot earn another bachelor’s degree, but an official transcript will be kept of their work.

``This is a return of some of their investment,″ Hersh said.

Cegelski has his own law office and a business brokerage firm in Rochester but, with a wife and 15-month-old son at home, says he couldn’t have afforded $2,100 a course, never mind year-round tuition of $18,000.

Besides, he’s still paying off his college loans.

He plans to drive the 90-mile round trip two days a week but has not yet decided on history, literature, philosophy or religion, subjects he relished but had time only to dabble in back when he was an economics major.

Just how many of the 14,000 alumni will make the journey can only be guessed at. Less than one-third still live in New York state. And with 1,800 undergrads having first stab, most introductory freshman courses will be closed off.

The likely enthusiasts? Middle-agers in the midst of a career switch or seeking a more formal milieu than their attic study. Fiftysomethings swayed by wealth or health into early retirement. Hard-drivers who need a minisabbatical away from the rat race.

Aristotle, who said ``Education is the best provision for old age,″ would have approved.

``It’s good for our students, it’s good for our professors, it’s going to be good for alums who want to immerse themselves again in thinking and reading and writing and listening and discourse again,″ Hersh said.

The program had a trial run in David Emerson, 52, who took a sociology class last spring and plans to enroll again after spring break.

Emerson, a 1964 economics graduate who needed a breather from running a philanthropic foundation, said he was surprised that students are ``very community-minded, very environmentally concerned, much more than my generation was.″

And in the classroom, ``they did not pass judgment on me, nor I on them.″

Scholarship, he said, ``gives you a chance to become a little more focused on some social issues that you’ve really neglected.

``It makes a person question much, much more, leaves them more open to other ideas. The idea of `Well, it’s always worked for me’ doesn’t necessarily mean that it applies to today’s problems.″

But while old age can be a hurdle, it also gives him a leg up.

``Getting into the pattern of doing the work was more difficult than I thought it would be, but once I got into it, it was easier because I had had the life experiences before, where a student wouldn’t comprehend some of the material because he hadn’t lived through it.″

What the comeback kids have in common, perhaps, is an unwillingness to get set in their ways, an uneasiness about being somehow left behind.

``It’s all part of what you try to do to keep yourself from becoming stale intellectually,″ Cegelski said. ``I’ve seen it happen to other people. They stop learning when they’re 22.″

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