January 19, 2016 — The 4th leg of last week’s Retirement Plan on a 3 X 5 Index Card was the question: How will you stay busy all day? The point seemed to resonate with many folks. Some have great plans and never expect a dull moment, others are clearly worried that the close of their working days will mean the end of mental stimulation. Today’s article focuses on how lifelong learning programs help hundreds of thousands of retirees keep their minds sharp while learning all kinds of interesting and useful stuff.
We know of at least 4 great ways to get involved in lifelong learning programs, and there are undoubtedly more too. If you are retired, check out the possibilities in your community. If you are still trying to find your best place to retire, research what type of lifelong learning exists in the locations you are considering, before you pull the trigger.
1. Osher Lifetime Learning Institutes
The biggest and most obvious program for lifelong learning comes from the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). A relative newcomer to the field (2001), it has had phenomenal success. It now operates on the campuses of 119 institutions of higher education from Maine to Hawaii and Alaska, with a National Resource Center at Northwestern University.
While there is no set curriculum, these are some of the common OLLI features: Non-credit educational programs specifically designed for seasoned adults aged 50 and older; support from the leadership of the university or college; a diverse repertoire of intellectually stimulating courses; and volunteer leadership. Generally admission is first come, first served, although some programs are more selective. Tuition is low or free after you pay a modest fee to join the OLLI. Many are taught by its members or volunteers. Some include field trips. And for those of you still smarting from your last formal learning experience, there are generally no tests or attendance taking (whew!).
From Southern Barbecue to Shakespeare and Brain Disease
The most fascinating aspect of OSHER programs is the creativity and the range of courses offered. We looked at a few course catalogs and were amazed by the offerings – from the whimsical to the practical – so many sound so appealing. Here are just a few examples:
– Introduction to Baking
– The History of Southern Barbecue
– Mad about These Movies
– Introduction to Letterpress Printing and Papermaking
– The Cold War
– What Makes You Sick
– Celebrating Shakespeare
etc., etc,. etc.
Below are links to 2 OSHER programs:
– Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Vanderbilt University
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Alabama (OLLI)
This is the link to the List of Participating OSHER Lifelong Learning Institutes across the country.
2. College and Community College Programs
Similar to the OSHER program many colleges, universities, and community colleges offer programs to retirees. Some colleges allow a certain number of senior students to audit classes at no or a greatly reduced fee, which is another great perk of living in a university town.
University Based Retirement Communities are another way to get access to lifelong learning. Many universities such as Penn State, Michigan, the University of Alabama, Florida, and others have affiliated retirement communities on or near their campuses. Residents in these facilities, many of them Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), have access to college classes and facilities. Particularly for alumni who already have a relationship with their alma mater, they can be very interesting places to live. See University Based Retirement Communities.
Although community colleges are increasingly focusing on helping local people get the training they need to enter the employment market (which might work for you too!), they also offer a range of classes aimed at general interests. Here is a link to the curriculum from the Austin (TX) Community College. As you can see, some of the classes are in areas that many baby boomers would be interested in: arts and crafts, horticulture, home and gardening, sewing, writing and fine arts, photography, etc.
3. Roadscholar Programs
You might remember this organization from its former name, Elderhostel. Rebranded as Roadscholar, this dynamic organization has an unbelievable list of programs where you learn and travel at the same time. The range goes from programs offered just down the block to destinations all over the world. With every conceivable type of offering, they are definitely worth checking out.
A few of the most popular programs currently featured on their website include: Hiking Death Valley, Sicily, the Best of the Rockies by Rail, and St. Augustine (FL): 450 Years of History Comes Alive. Roadscholar offers learning adventures from birding to food and wine, history, national parks, history, etc. Some people love the Roadscholar experience so much they go on multiple programs a year.
4. Local Adult Education and Libraries, etc.
Many localities have strong adult education programs that offer a full array of classes. You might have taken one – your editor’s family got their safe boating certificates from such a class. We also took a fun landscape architecture class. Usually taught by local experts, they can be interesting and provide a social outlet too. As local libraries continue to evolve in the digital age, offering interesting programs and speakers has become more important to their mission. While not often a formal “class”, these cultural events do provide lifetime learning and stimulation. See local newspapers and websites to find out what is available in your area.
More about lifelong learning and college town retirements
Should You Be Applying to a College Town for Retirement (A 3 part series)
Comments? Are you taking formal lifelong learning classes, or some other type of educational enrichment? What types of programs have you found most useful. Please share your experiences in the Comments section below.