Wise Up: A Guide to Sarasota’s Continuing Education Classes

If you want to learn something, chances are, there’s a class for it right here in town.

“I’ve always wanted to learn this, but I’ve never had the time.”

That refrain echoes through Sarasota. Our community is full of successful, enterprising people who seek out new challenges and creative outlets. Many are retirees who want to stay engaged and involved. Social scientists note that baby boomers, in particular, value lifelong learning, and a growing number are choosing to retire to college towns where academic opportunities abound.

In addition to a number of colleges and universities, Sarasota has a cottage industry of organizations dedicated to adult enrichment classes, including Pierian Spring Academy, Sarasota Institute of Lifelong Learning, Ringling College’s Continuing Studies program, and Sarasota County Schools’ massive Adult and Community Enrichment (ACE) program. All together, they offer hundreds of different classes every year, ranging from rug weaving and conversational French to stargazing. If you want to learn something, chances are, there’s a class for it right here in town.

“I moved here in ’97, and there weren’t many courses available,” says Robert Carlson, former head of Pierian Spring academy and president of the Sun Coast Alliance for Lifelong Learning. “Since then we’ve watched an expansion.” And demand keeps growing, he says, as the surge of new baby boomer retirees adds to the population of eager students.

Ringling College, which is consolidating several established lifelong learning organizations under the umbrella of its Academy, estimates that by 2018 its continuing studies programs together will reach more than 7,500 individuals. Just last year, ACE reported more than 12,000 enrollments in its courses—an 18 percent increase over 2015.

And lifelong learning classes are about quality as well as quantity. Sarasota attracts high-achieving retirees from all over the world—diplomats, TV news executives, journalists, artists, university presidents and more—who often enjoy turning their talents to teaching.

Yet as much as there is to be learned, these courses provide other benefits as well. “It’s not just the intellectual stimulation,” says Carlson. “It’s the associations they develop, the friends they make. They develop social circles. Groups spin off and become regular social gatherings.”

Retired attorney Elaine Charney began as a watercolor student and now teaches popular watercolor classes. Some students plan their trips around when they can attend her workshops. “I don’t think very many of us hope to become Michelangelo,” she says. “It’s the wonderful camaraderie. Everyone’s just so kind and supportive. That’s the extra blessing about taking a class.”

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