Thursday, June 16, 2011


Seniors and Seniors

Our population of seniors is declining, but our senior population is exploding.

Historically, high schools have been among our largest feeders. This should be no surprise. Over time, our enrollments have generally tracked fairly closely the enrollment of high school seniors in the area. The local high school senior population peaked two years ago, and is projected to decline fairly steadily for the next several years. By itself, that suggests some enrollment challenges in the coming years, especially as the shockwave of enrollments that accompanied the Great Recession gradually recedes.

The one demographic that’s really growing in this neck of the woods, and expected to continue to grow, is senior citizens. Historically, although we’ve usually had a few senior citizen students, they’ve formed a tiny percentage of our overall enrollments.

A few of us are starting to wonder if there’s a way to serve this new kind of senior.

The few senior citizens we’ve had as students have been well-received over the years. They take classes because they want to, and they bring life experience to class discussions. (King Lear reads differently if you have daughters.) They tend to cluster either in the liberal arts or in “I’ve always wanted to...” areas, like culinary. They’re much less common in criminal justice or business administration.

They get a significant discount, so they aren’t terribly lucrative, but as any political scientist can tell you, they vote at very high rates. There’s an argument to be made that having local senior citizens identify the college as having something for them can only be to our long-term benefit. They also frequently carry great weight as advisors within families; if Grandpa had a great experience recently at the local cc, the grandkids will probably hear about it. They’re also frequently well-connected within the community. In terms of building allies and community support, this is not to be dismissed lightly. Besides, since the mission of the college involves serving the community, there’s a clear upfront argument for serving the community as it exists.

The trick is in figuring out how to offer services in ways that make sense to more seniors.

Most of them aren’t looking for employment, or if they are, it’s along the lines of “I’ve always wanted to...” part-time jobs. They don’t have the focus on getting a good full-time job that the 19 year olds have. Some want to get degrees to prove that they could, but many either don’t focus on that or already have degrees.

I’ve seen one-off “senior days,” in which a college contracts with some local groups to bring a bunch of people to campus for a day of programming. At my last college, I used to participate in those every year, and they were wonderful. I’m hopeful that we can do that here, too. But a one-day event is a one day event.

I’m kind of casting about for ideas. Wise and worldly readers, have you seen an effective and constructive way for a college to provide services to a local senior citizen population? If you’ve been involved in something like that, what made it work? Did you learn anything that you wish you had known at the start?


One way might be to not call them "seniors"...Ask your lifespan psychology professor a more appropriate term. If you have the Berger 7e text, check the late adulthood chapters.
My undergrad school has a 3 or 4 day summer camp called "Grandparents U" (or something like that). It is a camp for grandparents and grandkids and offers all sorts of workshop/mini-class offerings. I always thought it was a smart idea because it targeted two age groups at once. It seemed pretty popular, but the age range of the grandkids was pretty young (probably ages 8-14 or so).
Go to the local senior centers or assisted living facilities and survey those folks about what they want - build a special advertising flyers around their needs which highlights the types of courses they take. Make the font big (the average course schedule is too small for most seniors to read without a magnifying glass.) For that matter, provide large print versions of your maps and publications or work with your accessablity team to create websites that scale so that people who have set their browsers for larger fonts don't end up with a user interface that loses its flow. Follow the Starbucks model - find your frequent flyers and reward them for coming back for more. If the number is low enough, perhaps you could offer priority registration for the 65+ who have taken a certain number of units in the last few semesters. Consider short courses and weekend courses that are offered in the subjects these folks like. If you have an off-site senior center with a lot of participants, offer courses at the senior center rather than on-campus. Work with the local paratransit to arrange drop off points on your campus that are convenient for those who no longer drive.
It is estimated that 78 million retiring baby boomers will enroll in social security over the next two decades, and are approaching retirement much differently than previous generations. Many retirees are interested in learning how to use modern technology (i.e. Facebook, Skype, etc.) to help connect with their children, grandchildren, friends, and family.

Perhaps there might be a viable opportunity to create a mentor program that provides benefits in both directions. Retirees can share their real-world experience, and also assist by helping connect young job seekers with prospective employers in the business community. Young students can share their knowledge of technology, etc.
One more idea. Maybe a local Rotary, or other service club, would help sponsor this type of program.
My college has "College Classics." They're run by the Continuing Education department but they are "regular" courses, just somewhat condensed. They are usually daily for 3-4 weeks (less of a long-term time committment.)

The courses are taught by full-time faculty. Some are in conjunction with "field trip" experiences to overseas mini-study abroad locations (vacaction packages.)

Some universities have programs that are coordinated by university employees, but largely taught by other older adults (who teach about something they specialize(d) in), local retired professors, or graduate students looking for more teaching opportunities. The courses meet for about half of a semester, and can include social components aside from the classes, like coffee socials before or after classes. Here's an example:
Not directly applicable, but perhaps a good model for reaching out to older adults in the community.
Re: Am
I think that's a great idea, especially the social facet to help connect younger students with seniors who are teaching classes in their specialized areas.
Ideas for classes (some of which I've taken at my local cc). (I'm a senior >65).
* writing screen plays
* writing autobiographies
* videography
* genealogy research
* photography
* writing poetry and adding the poet's original art (any media) to the poetry (a la Momaday)
* a foreign language
* any class learning how to use the new technology
* human nutrition
* dog/cat nutrition
* human anatomy (regular course in two classes)
* dog/cat anatomy
* basic bookkeeping
* pharmacology for chronic illnesses
* healthy gentle exercise
* repairing small motors
* child development
* palliative centered care studies
* any topic an older adult might have taken in their first degree which goes in more depth - e.g. World War II history, Vietnam War History, Economics, Jewish History, World History (specific time periods).

In addition to asking the senior centers to list some interests, give a interest survey to your students to pass on to their grandparents for completion.

Don't just offer classes on Saturdays, but during the regular school hours too in fewer weeks. Gives one a chance to: get away from the home a few hours a week; meet younger students; use the labs and libraries; and really lets the older aged student feel like part of the cc, not just an added thought.

Offer possible classes on line (depending on the class).

Call us students, not Seniors, and call the classes non-credit, enrichment, supplemental classes or some nifty names which describe a shorter course than usual.

Please don't call me Mature student, or Senior, or Elder. I'm a student when I pay my tuition, buy my supplies, and attend classes.
I teach a 6 week course on Alzheimer's and Dementia targeted at older people who want to know more about memory loss. We normally have a good crowd and some very lively discussions. We touch on some of the physiology of the brain and pathology of the disease and some of the current research pathways. But the best part is them sharing their experiences and stories. We have a couple of science classes with high enrollment of older people. Archeology, art appreciation, music appreciation, writing classes of all kinds are popular.
My in-laws and their good friends took several courses that were along the lines of Am 12:05pm. They were looking for the intellectual discussion, not the degree. (At least 2 of the 4 have doctorates.) One issue that sounded familiar was scheduling. At least one person chose one of their classes because it met on X day at Y o'clock. Another issue was calendar scheduling. They are snowbirds and wouldn't be able to attend for an entire semester.
Another issue is what to do when/if some of these folks don't really conform to traditional academic expectations. Very early in my career I had a guy in class who was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen. He was a fascinating individual with wonderful stories to share, and keen insights into how things have (and haven't) changed over the years, in terms of civil rights and race relations. In an American Politics class, this was wonderful. He was in his 80s when he took my class.

But he couldn't come anywhere close to passing exams.

I don't know what I was supposed to have done - failing the guy was all wrong. So was passing him.
At my current Pub Un for non-trads, we have a program for anyone 65 and up and a state resident. First, they have to wait until the week before classes start to register. They have to pay all course fees. However, there is no tuition. You are looking at maybe $30 bucks a class. Online or hybrid. These are credit bearing courses. I have one student who is slowly but surely making his way through is bachelor's.
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