BY SANDY LUNDAHL — University of Maryland (UMD) has a little-known program for seniors — no, not those about to graduate; senior citizens. Maryland residents over age 60 who are not working more than 20 hours per week may take courses at UMD and receive free tuition as part of the Golden Identification Card Program (Golden ID).

“My purpose is to be a life-long learner and have fun,” said Liz Follin, 64, a University Park resident who participates in the Golden ID Program taking undergraduate courses even though she has two master’s degrees.

“I’m filling in the holes from my undergraduate studies,” said Follin, who has taken Pocketbook Politics, a history of consumerism; a women’s history course; a course addressing the history and culture of the LGBT community; and a film course from the 1970s, which she called a  “blast from the past.”

“I have a friend, also a resident of University Park, who takes a lot of German courses,” Follin added.

Golden ID enrollment has steadily declined since 1993, according to data reported by UMD’s Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment. There were 741 undergraduate and 450 graduate Golden ID students at UMD College Park in the five-year period 1993-1997 (1,191 students), an average of 238 students per year. During 2012-2016, there were 164 undergraduate students and 439 graduate students (603 students), an average of 120 students per year.

“I don’t think the university wants to promote the program,” said Doug Jones, 70, president of the Golden ID Student Association. He added that, while tuition is waived, Golden ID students are charged fees that equal about $278 per semester.

“You have to be vigilant and persistent when finding out and applying to the university,” said Follin. “They don’t make it easy to sign up. You have to jump through hoops.”

But, according to Golden ID students, the benefit of taking courses outweighs the effort it takes to apply.

“I like being around young people, and teachers say they like my presence because I share practical, real-world application of what we are talking about in class,” said Jones. Since becoming a Golden ID student, Jones has audited two courses each semester, primarily in the history department, though he has taken courses in many departments.

Jones attended UMD as a history major almost 50 years ago and says the student body is quite impressive. Occasionally he gets annoyed when students don’t attend class, but, otherwise, does not consider student immaturity a real issue. “The students are very sharp,” said Jones, adding that he also enjoys meeting with his 60-plus-year-old peers during the twice-a-month lunches (“Lunch and Learns”) he organizes for Golden ID students at UMD’s Adele H. Stamp Student Union–Center for Campus Life.

“The very best class I’ve ever taken was the History of Science and Technology,” said Jones who worked in corporate real estate for over 30 years. “I enjoyed taking History of Jazz and art history classes, as well. If people were exposed to this type of history, they would really like it.”

Follin said that no other Golden ID student has been in any of the eight to 10 classes she’s taken.

“I have always felt comfortable in my classes. Students have been pleasant and welcoming,” said Follin. She also participates in “Lunch and Learns,” saying, “We chat about our courses and sometimes talk about politics and travel.”

Some students use the program as sort of a second chance at learning.

chicken wire
Karen Eckert, with a chicken wire sculpture she made in the 3-Dimensional Art class, is a degree-seeking student in the University of Maryland Department of Art through the Golden Identification Card Program. Photo courtesy of Karen Eckert

“The hardest class I’ve ever taken was my first Spanish class,” said Karen Eckert, 69, who has been taking up to three courses each semester since spring 2014. “I got a C and thought it was a miracle. Then I took another Spanish class and got a B- and then a B+ the next time. I don’t know why, but I love learning Spanish.”

“I didn’t take school seriously when I was a [UMD] student 50 years ago,” said Eckert, who is happy to be back taking classes all over again. “I take classes for credit because I do all the work that the other students do.”

Eckert is a degree-seeking student in the department of art. She has taken drawing, screen print-making, design and painting courses (the same one five times). Eckert worked for the federal government for 36 years in several agencies and retired as a systems accountant for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security.

“I don’t run into many people who know about the program,” said Eckert. “But I love it. I love being with people of all ages. I love the classroom experience, and I like helping the students who are just beginning their careers.”

Eckert is planning to take her first ever online course this summer.  

Senior students aren’t the only people who benefit from the Golden ID Program.

“Golden ID students add an interesting element to a class …  a fresh perspective, valued by both the students and myself,” said Robert Friedel, a UMD history professor.

Prospective students may be degree-seeking (if accepted by a department) or non-degree seeking. They may audit or attend courses for credit. The first step is to complete an online application to the university. Once accepted, students may register on a space-available basis for a maximum of three courses. Individuals can apply online through the Office of Undergraduate or Graduate Admissions.

Addie Beatty, coordinator for the Golden ID program and for the Office of the Registrar, says she has been with the program for a long time.

Because the application process is all online, Beatty recommends that prospective students contact her at the beginning of the process and apply as an Advanced Special Student if they have an undergraduate degree. “It’s an easier process,” said Beatty.

“I just spoke with a student who got his undergraduate degree. It took him about eight years, but he did it,” said Beatty.

The Golden ID program is available on all UMD campuses throughout the state including the undergraduate and graduate schools at UMD, Baltimore County and UMD, University College. Courses may be entirely online or a combination of online learning and in-person instruction. Most courses at UMD College Park are held on campus during the day.

“I might take some courses now that I know more about the program,” said Molly Parrish, 73, a resident of Hyattsville and a volunteer with Hyattsville Aging in Place. “I am interested in lots of things, but I would take literature classes because I read all the time. I was a journalism major 50 years ago and didn’t take as many English courses as I would have liked.”

Prospective students may visit the Golden ID Student Program, on the first floor of the Mitchell Building, or call 301.314.8219 to speak with Addie Beatty, the coordinator for the Golden ID program and for the Office of the Registrar.