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Expand UI Lifetime program to more academic topics

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JANUARY 25, 2011 7:10 AM

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Lunch With Medical Students and Why Are Legislatures So Unpopular? are two courses offered this spring semester by the University of Iowa Lifetime Enrichment Adult Program for persons 50 and over. According to the website, the goal of the program is to provide a variety of educational activities for its students. It offers some great courses, such as Introductory Spanish and Forensic Anthropology, but the majority of courses are rudimentary at best. These are class titles normally seen at a community recreation center rather than at a university — and that’s not far off base.

The UI program is not designed to offer a postsecondary education or the credit hours needed to complete a degree. Its courses aren’t accredited by the university. As Center on Aging program assistant Laura Scheetz eloquently puts it, “It’s a neat way for [people over 50] to learn outside their everyday activities.” While the program offers people in their twilight years a chance to socialize and learn new basic skills, it also lacks for the sort of real substantive material that is not beyond the comprehension of senior citizens — the sort of material that is becoming a mainstay of lifelong education programs.

An exploratory study in the International Journal of Lifelong Education expounds upon some principal goals for adult education: drawing on the abundant experiences of older pupils and centering their educational desires. Continuing education centers in Bologna, Italy, use these goals to provide older citizens with a wealth of academic options, from archaeology to philosophy; they also serve adults who were highly educated in their youth.

The study also found that the primary reasons senior citizens enroll in such classes were socializing opportunity, “personal growth,” and a genuine desire to learn. It is not irrational to assume that our Iowa City seniors have the same predilections.

These predilections are underserved by simplistic continuing-education programs. Obviously, such programs — including the one at the UI — should follow basic rules of demand, but it is difficult to believe that there would be no demand for seriously rigorous classes in the senior set. The program does offer a variety of subjects, but it does not venture into subjects comparable with college-level study, which excludes older individuals from the true pursuit of academic inquiry that is still possible in the later years of life.

Obviously, the UI Lifetime program is not intended to replace the UI Division of Continuing Education, but it could go a long way toward providing further opportunities for those in their autumn years who have already demonstrated a clear engagement with more demanding topics.

There are, for instance, people over the age of 50 enrolled in regular course work at the UI.
For the fall 2010 semester, 310 students over the age of 50 were enrolled at the UI, both as undergraduates and graduate students. It is not unheard-of for freshmen to have a classmate who is 40 years older.

“We had someone in his 80s once who completed an online degree,” Maureen McCormick, the marketing director of the UI Division of Continuing Education, told the Editorial Board.
She said the UI Lifetime program is more geared toward personal development, field trips, and events, while accredited courses are for degree development.

The distinction is a real one, to be sure, but it does not need to imply a difference in academic rigor. Senior citizens could benefit handily from community classes that center on them, drawing on experiential history to engage them in serious discussion. There is a profound difference in environment between an adult in a Wittgenstein seminar with 35 youths and an adult in a Wittgenstein seminar with 35 of her or his peers; this is the difference that should be highlighted and explored, without sacrificing any of the self-directed academic inquisitiveness exhibited by the UI program patrons.

The program demonstrates an initial understanding of lifelong educational techniques, and it should be expanded to cover more challenging material. As Americans struggle to improve the educational system, we mustn’t forget that learning is not confined to our first 30 years.


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