CALL program enrollment grows


CALL offers classes to students over 50 years old who are interested in continuing their education. Photo courtesy CALL Facebook page.

The Calvin Academy for Lifelong Learning (CALL), an on-campus, continued education program for Calvin alumni and older adults in the Grand Rapids community,  is celebrating higher enrollment numbers than ever before—filling 1,957 classroom seats—and one student turning 100 after 15 years of involvement in the program.

Elizabeth (CALL declined to disclose her last name at her request) was born on November 17, 1917. She joined the CALL program in 2002 at 85 and has since taken 114 classes since then. Though Elizabeth no longer drives, a fellow student and parishioner drives her to class and she continues to explore new ideas through CALL classes.

Sonja De Jong, one of the directors of CALL, described Elizabeth as “not a typical Calvin person.” Indeed, 38% of CALL students have no prior connection to Calvin. CALL does not run a marketing campaign, and most of their publicity comes through word of mouth. De Jong noted that many CALL students mention being introduced to the program through activities not related to Calvin, such as at a pool during a swim class.

CALL students share their experiences with their peers and with grandchildren and friends who may choose to pursue an undergraduate degree at Calvin, said De Jong.

“They influence other generations to come here.”

Students in the program invest in the Calvin community in other ways. According to De Jong, several CALL members have become mentors, participate in a Campus Bible study, volunteer to work on the Plaster Creek project and serve in other ways on Calvin’s campus and in Calvin’s larger community. Several have started scholarships for undergraduate students.

The program began in 1996 and its enrollment grown 254% in the last ten years. This year’s enrollment is “well over 800” students according to De Jong, almost equaling this year’s first-year class.

CALL students represent a considerable portion of Calvin’s learning community. Visitors might come into contact with them in the halls of academic buildings.

“In Hieminga Hall, the ratio of [undergraduate] students to CALL students is probably a good 50/50,” joked De Jong.

De Jong estimated that the median age of a CALL student is around 75. Adults 50+ can join the program but De Jong notes that the majority of the program’s participants are older.

“You are too busy to take classes at 50,” said De Jong. Students enrolled in Call pay $25 per class and attend classes Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in Hieminga Hall and the CFAC. The semester is divided into two sessions. Thirty-two courses were offered during the current session that is wrapping up. The next session will start this week.

Courses are taught by current and emerita Calvin professors. De Jong reports great enthusiasm for the program from professors who have participated.

“They have an attentive group of people hanging on every word,” she said.

De Jong shared how CALL is serving and impacting Calvin and the greater Grand Rapids community.

“The country is aging. Grand Rapids is this huge retirement community. You can see study after study that show Grand Rapids as a go-to place to retire,” stated De Jong. “We are providing a service for a population who is older longer and need things to do.”

This is reflected in the program’s enrollment statistics. Students in the 60-80 age range make up the largest percentage of program enrollment and the 90-plus age range has 51 students, up from 38 last year.

The CALL program allows retirees and seniors to explore interests and experiences that they may not have had time to before.

“It is just the most impressive thing,” said De Jong, “when you see a group of people who can’t be paralleled…to anyone except a kindergartener. They are the only ones that can compete with that high-level of interest.”