Seventy-six year old Doug Jones was in eighth grade when he took his first course at the University of Maryland. More than 60 years later, he’s still heading to class.

Jones, a College Park native and university alum, has taken classes at this university for the past 13 years during his retirement. He is one of many self-described lifelong learners in this university’s Golden ID program, which allows retired Maryland residents who are more than 60 years old to take courses free of tuition.

Participants in the Golden ID program, which has existed for at least 50 years, can register for up to three courses each semester, which they pay mandatory student fees for. Students study subjects including fashion history, opera, architecture and medieval literature.

Each month, Jones brings the students together at his often-anticipated Golden ID luncheons, where they meet at local restaurants to discuss their classes and professors.

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When Jones held his first luncheon about a decade ago, it garnered only one attendee, he said. Now, more than 15 students attend the luncheon each month to delve into topics such as gardening, Islamic history, their lives and the evolution of technology.

Many come back to the luncheons even after leaving the Golden ID program for the connection and engaging conversation, Jones said.

“Those who are in the program, I think, are all interesting people,” Jones said. “They’re all interested in lifetime learning. That learning doesn’t have to stop when you’re 22 years old or 25. It can go on.”

Ellswer Tillman enrolled in the Golden ID program to pursue interests she wished she could have during her 41-year career as a teacher. At last week’s luncheon, Tillman said even though she audits the courses she takes in dance and opera singing, she doesn’t mind taking tests. She can’t help but want to be challenged, she added.

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At 77 years old, Tillman plans to don a cowboy hat and jeans and perform with her tap dance class to Beyonce’s “Ya Ya” on Thursday. For Tillman, who struggles with her short-term memory, dance is more than just a challenge for the body.

“I love the engagement of keeping my mind fired up in dance,” Tillman said. “The repetitiveness is helping my memory, which is very important to me. I’m just so grateful that this program is here.”

Maureen Roult joined the program shortly after earning her second bachelor’s degree in theater from this university in 2017. While participating in the Golden ID program, she earned a master’s degree in library and information science.

After spending about six years in the program, Roult enjoys the freedom of choosing to learn whatever she wants, she said. She did not have this freedom when she was studying linguistics at the University of Kansas for her first degree more than 40 years ago, she said.

“When you’re not worrying about a degree, you don’t have to worry about finding a job,” Roult said. “There were so many things I wanted to do, and now I can do some of those.”

Though many of the students in the program come back to school to gain new perspectives, they also bring their own unique perspective to this university, English associate professor Thomas Moser said.

Moser, who has taught multiple Golden ID students, emphasized the deep engagement and wealth of ideas students who engage in lifelong learning bring to his classes.

“It’s not a one-way street,” Moser said. “The Golden ID people bring a special kind of knowledge and experience to the class so I always enjoy having them.”

Moser is considering continuing his academic pursuits by joining the Golden ID program when he retires.

“There should be this joy in expanding your mind and expanding your understanding of the world,” Moser said. “We should, throughout our lives, expose ourselves to different ideas and different experiences.”