More seniors taking classes at College of Charleston

Wade Spees/Staff The number of senior citizens taking advantage of a state law that allows them to take free classes is growing.

Lawrence and Judith McMahon, a couple with a love for learning, met and got married when they were in college.

And when their 50th wedding anniversary rolls around in November, they will be enrolled in at least one class at the College of Charleston.

Lawrence McMahon, 72, said he's taken advantage of a state law that allows senior citizens to take classes for free at the state's public colleges and universities every year since 2003. "It's one of the greatest benefits of being a citizen of the state of South Carolina," he said.

Dorinda Harmon, the college's director of admissions for special programs, said McMahon is one of a growing number of seniors taking advantage of the program for South Carolina residents who are at least 60 years old, and who are not working full time.

When the program began in the late 1980s, only about 60 students enrolled, Harmon said. Now, about 300 seniors take at least one course each semester. And that number has grown by about 25 students each term in recent years, she said.

McMahon already had a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Tennessee, which he earned in 1965, when he took his first course at the college. But after many years of working in sales and owning his own business, he wanted to do something different.

So he decided to pursue a bachelor's degree in art history, which he earned in 2006.

His wife retired in 2010, he said, and since then, the two of them take classes together. They mostly take art history courses, he said, which is a passion for both of them. But they audit classes now, instead of taking them for credit.

"We found being students again to be great fun," he said. "We never once felt unwelcome."

He also said he's been impressed with the traditional-age students he has met in his classes. They are a committed and hard-working group of young people.

Harmon said seniors mostly learn about the program from other seniors. And once they take a course, they often want to take more. "I can't think of a group of students who want to be at college more than this group."

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.