Looking to learn something new in retirement? Find an age-friendly university

I find that one of the benefits of being retired (or, as I call myself “unretired”, because I’m a retired freelance writer and editor), is the free time I now have to go back to school and learn. It’s fun, good for my brain, gives me meaning and keeps me busy.

I recently signed up for two online adult training courses at The Adult School of The Chathams, Madison and Florham Park (NJ): one on Simon & Garfunkel artistry and the other on voice work off. My wife took a course there on social media marketing for startups like her Mind Your Own Frizzness hair oil business.

I plan to return to One Day University, the fun 12-year program created by Stephen Schragis that allows students (most of whom are over 50) to hear in-person or online lectures from over 200 of the best nationwide college professors for $8.95. a month. His most popular lectures range from “Buddy Holly and the Day the Music Died” to “John Steinbeck’s America” ​​to “Rating the Presidents”.

What is an age-friendly university?

Lately, I’ve been particularly intrigued by so-called “age-friendly universities.” As Joan Montepare, director of the Fuss Center for Research on Aging and Intergenerational Studies at Lasell University in Newton, Mass., said at a recent American Society on Aging conference I attended: ” Higher Education .”

Over the past few days, I’ve interviewed Montepare — whose small liberal arts institution was the second in the United States to join the global Age-Friendly University (AFU) network — and several other key players in the movement , who just turned 10, to learn more about it.

As people live longer, work longer, and yearn for a retirement filled with intellectual stimulation and new life paths, going back to school seems like a no-brainer.

The idea of ​​Age-Friendly Universities and its global network originated at Dublin City University (DCU) in 2012, as part of Ireland’s efforts to follow the World Organization’s Age-Friendly Countries initiative of health. Its founders cited six pillars that could make universities age-friendly, and 10 principles based on them.

These ambitious principles range from “encouraging the participation of older people in all core activities of the university” to “promoting intergenerational learning to facilitate the reciprocal sharing of expertise between learners of all ages” to ” actively engage with the university’s own retirement community. ”

Surprisingly (at least for me) an age-friendly physical environment is not one of the 10 fundamental principles.

Defining older people differently

In the real world, universities define being “age-friendly” in their own way,

A 2021 study in The Gerontologist showed that administrators at an unnamed northeast public university reported the second highest percentage of age-friendly practices in its physical environment, second only to staff. The lowest percentage, unfortunately: teaching and learning.

At the American Society of Aging conference, Celeste Beaulieu discussed the wide range of age-friendly practices she found in her University of Massachusetts research of 23 public and private universities across the county. .

They ranged from visible signage, maps, accessible bathrooms and handicapped parking to experiential learning opportunities for working with older adults, career service opportunities for older students and discounts for retirees.

One of the reasons some universities have age-friendly physical environments is because they are required to do so by laws like the American Disabilities Act.

Why aren’t there more age-friendly universities?

The number of age-friendly universities is still quite small — there are now 95 worldwide. About 60 of these are in the United States (many public schools and small liberal arts colleges; the full list is on the DCU site), less than 2% of the approximately 4,000 colleges and universities in America. But the total figure has skyrocketed.

“We have grown exponentially over the past few years,” said Christine O’Kelly, Coordinator of the Age-Friendly Universities Global Network at Dublin City University.

None, however, are in the Ivy League or equivalent.

Even MIT, known for its famous AgeLab researchers, is not on the list of age-friendly universities.

Nor are Harvard or Stanford, despite their esteemed and expensive programs for midlife professionals – Harvard’s Advanced Learning Institute and Stanford’s Distinguished Careers Institute. “Unless you’re at the top of your game in the corporate world and you have that money, [those programs are] very expensive,” O’Kelly said.

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The small number of age-friendly universities is, for me, a headache considering the demand of people in their 60s to learn skills that would make them more employable.

There are also demographic trends pointing to the pursuit of smaller pools of high school graduates enrolling in colleges – the birth shortage. The US Census Bureau projects that the number of 18 to 24 year olds will remain stable until 2035 or beyond. Undergraduate enrollment has fallen 6.5% during the pandemic.

Wouldn’t having more students in their 60s be smart for the economics of universities? After all, said Nina Silverstein, professor of gerontology at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, “aging is good business.”

Susan K. Whitbourne, faculty member and adjunct professor of gerontology at the University of Massachusetts-Boston and researcher at the age-friendly University, offered a theory for the lack of ivy so far. Maybe, she postulated, maybe it’s “they don’t worry about signing up because they always have more applicants than they need.”

Montepare had two other explanations why more American universities aren’t on the senior citizens list: Changes in “higher education can travel to a glacial place,” she said. Additionally, Montepare noted, the move is a “bottom-up approach.”

She’s right about that. O’Kelly is essentially an individual leader for age-friendly universities. “It takes time to embed age-friendly practices in college,” O’Kelly told me.

Age-Friendly Learning and the Pandemic

The pandemic’s on-campus learning restrictions have taken away one of the main benefits of taking classes in retirement: the joy of being in a room with students of different ages and the social interaction that comes with it.

O’Kelly noted, “After the lecture, if you go for a cup of coffee, you’re able to say to the person, ‘What do you think? Was it all bullshit? Did you get anything out of it? »

There’s also the vibrancy of just hanging out in a college community, as well as the ability to get away from those Zoom calls. “It’s fun being on a college campus,” Whitbourne said.

Conversely, however, the growth of online courses has made it easier for some retirees to attend from home.

“I was there” course for the youngest

Whether you take retirement classes online or in person, you may have the opportunity to turn a lecture about the 1960s or social security for young students into something more real for them, leaning on you about your personal memories and experiences.

Silverstein fondly recalls an intergenerational class she taught. “It was so exciting to discuss social security and to have people on Social Security speaks to undergraduates who really wanted to understand this lived experience. You can’t beat it.

Some schools offer specially designed intergenerational programs. Lasell, for example, has the Talk of Ages program created by Montepare. This is to facilitate the reciprocal sharing of expertise between younger and older students.

Montepare explained what she wanted from Talk of Ages – to bring together younger and older students with a common interest and common goals “to talk about social justice, climate change and new experiences”. This year’s Talk of Ages discussed the empirical evidence behind intergenerational teaching and learning.

In the spring of 2021, the Emeritus Academy (EA) at the University of California, Berkeley held a virtual celebratory gathering for its distinguished faculty members and students who had completed EA member-led projects.

A way to reduce ageism

Programs like these also help mitigate potentially ageist attitudes among young undergraduates.

In their recent New Map of Life article, Stanford University professors Ilana Horwitz and Mitchell Stevens recommended that colleges and universities “develop application pathways and scholarships specifically for adult learners, d ‘relax on-campus housing or full-time enrollment requirements for undergraduate students over age’. of 25, and provide community building and academic support services specifically for adult learners.

If you want a local university or your alma mater to become more age-friendly, Montepare advised, let the school know. “The voice of retirees is really important,” she says.

About Hector Hedgepeth

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