The majority of students at Montclair State University are young adults, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late for senior citizens to go to college. There are 60 senior citizen students enrolled as of spring 2017 through the Senior Citizen Tuition Waiver Program, also known as Older Learning Adults (OLA), which has been around for 34 years. The program is for New Jersey residents who are at least 65 years old and possess a high-school degree or its equivalent.
The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services stated on their brochure that each public institution of higher education in New Jersey may, if they so choose, permit people of the age 65 or older to enroll in regularly scheduled courses without paying any tuition charges. Although Montclair State allows tuition waivers, students still need to pay fees in order to contribute to the university in some way.
Kellen Smith-Washington, coordinator of the academic success and retention program, enables senior citizens to go for their degrees or guides them in whatever self-fulfillment classes they are looking to take without pursuing a degree.
The Senior Citizen Tuition Waiver Program is not well known due to its small size and is being overshadowed by bigger programs such as the Adult Learning Program and military and veteran students who really take the spotlight.
“It is the smallest on campus and unfortunately it’s not from the lack of want for the students, you know, I lose a lot of students naturally,” Smith-Washington said.
One of the 60 students who is currently an OLA is 72-year-old Laura Leinberger. As a lover of music and piano player since she was a child, Leinberger decided after she retired in 2007 from being a vice president at JPMorgan Chase & Co., she would head back to college.
She was first accepted into the Music Therapy Program, but then realized she didn’t have the energy level needed to work in music therapy.
“I had already worked [for] 40 years so it wasn’t the time of my life to pick up where I left off,” said Leinberger. “I stopped [pursing a degree], but I’ve been taking music classes, [I play] the piano again, which I am doing on and off, and now I’m in Chamber Ensemble Performance class.”
Leinberger added that she takes more risks now than she did when she was younger.
“I’m not there to compete, I’m there to learn. It’s a whole different mindset,” said Leinberger.
Not only does Leinberger go to school, but she also joined a formal choir in Montclair Township called the Oratorio Society of New Jersey. She still has to juggle her time like any other typical college student, between classes and extracurricular activities. She still finds time to cheer on other students who perform in night recitals at Montclair State, knowing some of their parents aren’t in the crowd.
But Leinberger wasn’t the first cheerleader from OLA. One of the oldest students Montclair State has ever had is Harold Dinzes, who is now deceased. He accumulated 125 credits and took classes until he was 97 years old, making him the oldest to partake in OLA. He was a cheerleader for everyone, giving anyone he encountered Lifesavers.
His motto was, “Do what you love. It’s never too late.”
Dinzes first began taking classes at Montclair State in spring 2005, at age 88, through the G.I. Bill from serving in World War II and in the Korean conflict.
At the age of 90, he was given aid through the tuition waiver, according to his daughter-in-law Joanne Dubester-Dinzes. Joan Voltman, a program assistant in the administrative service for the
Academic Success and Retention Program, who was one of Dinzes’ best friends at Montclair State encouraged him to keep pursuing his dream of being a student.
“A lot of people enjoy the fact that they are always in a learning capacity even when they get older,” said Voltman. “Harold was a lovely man and he just believed in completely keeping his head in an educational frame of mind.”
Dinzes was not only an inspirational man to the people he encountered at Montclair State, but also to those he spent time with at his part time job as a cashier and greeter at Barnes & Noble in Clifton, New Jersey.
Kim Paserchia and Colleen Kalan, who were co-workers and friends of Dinzes, created a Facebook page dedicated to Dinzes while he was still alive.
“It was a perfect opportunity to create a space for Harold where everyone can voice their love for him and his family can show him how much everyone loves and misses him,” said Paserchia.
Kalan said that, when she told Dinzes he was on Facebook, he replied, “You put me on the machine? You’ll have to show me how that works.” Today, the Facebook page is used as a memorial to remember Dinzes.
Leinberger and Dinzes have impacted Montclair State despite their age.
“People think senior citizens don’t do much, but our students are sitting in board meetings, talking about why things need to be more affordable for the younger students and they’re challenging the professors sometimes on why they think policy isn’t fair sometimes,” said Smith-Washington.