Colin Carlson, age 13, might have fared better had he attended UC Irvine. A double-major in environmental studies and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, Carlson claims he is a victim of age discrimination. UConn officials have barred him from studying abroad in South Africa because with his age comes legal liability issues.
“The university is not able to comment on issues of pending litigation or claims,” said UConn spokesman Michael Kirk. “However, just generally speaking, when it comes to study abroad, student safety is and has to be our first concern.”
In elementary school, Carlson learned the material noticeably faster than his peers so he began taking high school classes online. By the time he was 12 years old, he was enrolled as a full-time UConn undergraduate student.
The university treated him like any other student until he tried to enroll in African Field Biology, which entailed a research trip to South Africa.
“I’m at just as much risk as anybody else,” Carlson said, “And I should not be excluded on the basis of a two-digit number.”
The schools in the University of California, on the other hand, do not seem to harbor any similar policies. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is because the UC is a public university system. Any potential liability goes directly to the state of California. Also, between 14 and 29 percent of UC students per campus are transfer students; many of them are from California community colleges and are either above or below the median university student age.
UCLA alumnus Levi Clancy, is just one such case. Clancy began attending Santa Monica College, a community college, when he was 11 years old before transferring to UCLA. Unlike Carlson however, 14-year-old Clancy never felt he was treated unfairly at UCLA.
“From the time I began at UCLA, I was not restricted by the university from participating in any programs, classes or events,” said Clancy. “When I worked in a laboratory, the principal investigator asked to meet with my mother to make sure that there were no misunderstandings and to get my mother’s approval. Being young does not itself garner any advantages, but it did help me to stand out and, combined with my enthusiasm, I left an impression on some people.”
Clancy, unlike Colin, had to leave UCLA in 2006 because of financial problems, but returned in 2008 on a scholarship. He took a year off in 2009 and now, almost 20 years old, Clancy will be returning this fall to finish his degree.
His grades and participation matched those of his peers, and like them, he was able to foster strong bonds with his professors. He was simply there to learn and there is no age limit for that.
In areas of education that do engender legal sanctions, however, a UC seeks parent approval. Programs like the Education Abroad Program (EAP) and the International Opportunities Program (IOP) often require a little more than parental consent from students below the age of 18 to participate.
By contrast, UC on-campus housing does not restrict or segregate students based on age, though nontraditional students (25 years and older) are given the option of living in graduate housing areas if they prefer to be around people in the same age range.
Some UC programs, like the Viticulture and Enology program at UC Davis, are required by federal law to impose an age restriction. Certain classes within the program, like the Wine Appreciation and Evaluation course, require students to be 21 years or older in order to taste wine. When the program was first introduced, underage students were expected to spit wine out after tasting it; they did not.
Though not formally attached to the UC administration, fraternities and sororities are a large part of the university experience.
“At one point I contacted a fraternity and was told to not rush because a fraternity was not a good environment for minors,” Clancy said.
Despite the benefits of brother- and sisterhood, the philanthropy, the community service and the resume material that membership in a fraternity or sorority offer, binge drinking, drug use and sex are also often part of the package. Yet, a minor’s acceptance into such an organization varies among organizations and chapters.
Overall, however, the UC system opens its doors to students of all ages.
“My experience at UCLA is not just an academic endeavor, but also a large chunk of my childhood,” Clancy said. “Thus, many of the friendships and memories of my early youth are tied to my time at UCLA. Even at seventeen I blended in decently with the other students, and I often like a normal student on the outside but with lots of secrets on the inside. When somebody took the time to get to know me, there was a somewhat uncomfortable moment whenever one of these secrets was revealed, such as that I was younger, worked two jobs, started so young and lived on my own.”