Ready for College 2.0?
What is the purpose of college? The dictionary suggests "an educational institution or establishment, in particular one providing higher education or specialized professional or vocational training." Not surprisingly, the definition says nothing about being purely for those who have just entered adulthood.
As I've written about in past posts like "Will Mid-Lifers Save College Campuses?," it may be time to rethink higher education. Look at Arizona State University (ASU), which has 450 modern elders living on campus in the Mirabella at ASU development. While the media has hyped the recent controversy over the fact that those living in this building take issue with the loud live music playing nightly from a club across the street, the bigger opportunity is real. What if college campuses weren't a version of age apartheid, just like retirement communities are age-separated places?
I had a great conversation with Lindsey Beagley, ASU Senior Director of Lifelong University Engagement, recently, and here are some of her insights:
Being given a student ID card is a critical moment in the journey. Having a student ID card represents the moment they become a learner again. It's a full-circle moment, and I admit I was surprised at how important it seems to be for them. It can be kind of scary for some to shed their previous identity as the most experienced, knowledgeable person in the room and step into a world with unfamiliar ideas, norms, people, and technology where they are a beginner everywhere they go. It is also thrilling to no longer be defined only by what they used to do professionally. Instead of a singular identity as "retired physician" or "retired executive," they are now a poetry student, a project advisor, a guest lecturer, teaching assistant, pitch judge, etc. In short, they belong in a place that is designed for those who are perpetually becoming.
The reasons older adult learners want to learn are highly variable compared to traditionally-aged college students. Some want to sample ideas and topics that were impractical in their younger years (e.g., Philosophy). Some are trying to expand their knowledge in order to understand the changing world around them (e.g., Fake News, Climate Change, Responsible Innovation, etc.). Others appreciate the opportunity to dive deep into a topic in a rigorous way but have discovered they can now relax into the material in a way they couldn't when they were learning for the purpose of passing an exam. Others simply want to be around and learn alongside younger students to hear how they are thinking and what the future holds.
We have so much to learn about what retirees actually want. Because no one has ever seen such an active, healthy post-career life stage before, they don't even know what they want. To put them in a position to explore, sample, and try on at this stage of their life is fascinating! One of our residents, a 92-year-old retired pediatrician, has taken two online humanities classes every semester for the past six semesters. A woman who spent her whole career as an attorney on Wall Street just made her first chair in flute in the university band! One resident, who was nearing the end of his life, enrolled in conversational Spanish. The act of learning was valuable because he was a learner, and it made him feel alive.
She says, “I could go on and on! As the ‘architect’ of the university relationship for this community, I never could have anticipated, prescribed, or designed these experiences for them.”