Committed to its belief in lifelong learning, Wellesley College offers select groups of individuals the ability to audit courses on a non-credit basis. The college first offered this program to alumnae of the college and, by 1974, extended the program to senior citizens who were residents of the town of Wellesley. Today, current employees and retirees who have worked on campus for at least ten years are also eligible to audit classes.
Those interested in auditing a course are required to contact the Alumnae Association, Wellesley’s Council on Aging or Human Resources. A week before the beginning of the semester, these three associations post and share a list of courses that are approved to be audited and include the class schedule and professors’ contact information. Potential auditors must also contact the professor to inquire about available spaces, attendance and class expectations before registering. Courses that are open to auditors range in discipline and interest from astronomy to East Asian languages and culture and economics courses.
Because there is no formal registration, the Office of the Registrar is not closely associated with the process. Currently, the office does not track who audits which classes and what courses are being audited.
This simple registration process was more complicated in the past. Previous Registrar and current President of the Wellesley Student’s Aid Society Ann Hamilton explained that everyone who wanted to audit was required to come to the academic council room in person to sign up for the class on a specific date.
“Potential auditors started to line up on the fourth floor of Green Hall well before the 9:00 a.m. start time for registering to audit and staff had them sit in the order in which they arrived,” Hamilton said. “It was quite a process and one that needed to change.”
It is at the professor’s discretion whether to allow auditors in their classes. Professor of Art Patricia Berman currently has ten auditors in her ARTH 101 Art, Architecture and Urban Form II course this semester. Most of the auditors are senior citizens who live in Wellesley, one is a retired member of the college and another is a current staff member. Berman explained
that inviting other individuals to audit aligns with the College’s mission.
“I believe in Wellesley’s mission as an educational institution that does not necessarily view an education as completed when a four-year cycle has ended,” Berman said. “If we consider that we are helping to secure a lifelong love of learning and critical engagement, I like the thought of providing a vehicle for that openness for our larger community.”
Regarding logistics, auditors also have access to Sakai, which provides them with the assigned readings, lecture power point presentation and important announcements. They are limited to auditing one course per semester.
For the majority of the time, Berman noted that auditors do not usually participate in class discussions and the small conference sections. However, she recalled previous moments where discussion was enriched by the perspectives of the older auditors.
“Some of the most magnetic and memorable moments were when the ‘traditional age’ students and the older auditors had a dialogue about history and about the meaning of art. On one memorable occasion, a woman who had attended the 1936 Olympics games in Berlin blew the minds of her much younger classmates, for whom 1936 may as well have been Mars,” she said. “I like the intergenerational camaraderie before and after class.”
Dr. Harold Ginsburg, a senior citizen who lives in Wellesley, has also taken advantage of the auditing
opportunities at Wellesley and is currently attending REL 270 Religions of the Silk Road. Over the span of seven years, Ginsburg has audited a total of fourteen courses here. These classes varied from art history and sociology to physics. Ginsburg expressed that these courses reflected his current interests on topics he wanted to learn more about.
Last semester, Ginsburg audited SOC 246 Salsa and Ketchup: How Immigration is Changing the U.S., as he wanted to understand the immigration crisis that was making news headlines.
“Most of the courses I chose related to my general interest in life and what was going on in the world,” Ginsburg said. “I took U.S. immigration last semester and it was extremely timely. It was very valuable to have this as a background given the news and politicians.”
When professors permit more participation, Ginsburg enjoys sharing his own insights and personal stories. For SOC 246, Ginsburg organized class excursions to South Framingham, a community he was familiar with when he was working. Now, there is a growing Brazilian immigrant population. He thought it was relevant for students to see how quickly communities can be transformed.
Ginsburg also commends Wellesley’s academic community, finding the students to be especially well-spoken and prepared for class. Comparing his positive experience at Wellesley with his friends who audit at other institutions, Ginsburg appreciates how professors are willing to answer his questions in detail. In contrast, at large institutions, courses are taught primarily by teaching assistants.
“The advantage at Wellesley is that all courses are taught by someone who is learned and has training in the specific field,” Ginsburg said.
Additionally, unlike other institutions, Wellesley College does not charge auditors.
Many students view the auditing process positively as it makes education and learning even more accessible to others. Kiana Nedele ’16 thinks that the program is beneficial to both auditors and current students.
“I think it’s really great that these resources are being made available to all members of our community, not just current students,” Nedele said. “And for us, auditors bring to the class a more mature outlook [with] perspectives from outside the Wellesley bubble.”