The Treasure That Is OLLI


May 17, 2015 by Jean

imageThis spring, my experience of retirement has been greatly enriched through the programs of OLLI, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes. Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes are a program of the Bernard Osher Foundation, intended to provide non-credit courses and activities for “seasoned adults aged 50 or older who are interested in learning for the joy of learning.”

I first learned about OLLI when a friend who retired several years before me took several courses at the OLLI program at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. When I did an online search to see if there was anything closer to home (I am about an hour away from Portland), I discovered the Senior College at the University of Southern Maine’s branch campus, Lewiston-Auburn College, just a few miles from my house. It was there that I took my first senior college course this spring.

imageIt turns out that there is a whole network of Senior Colleges in Maine, seventeen separate programs at campuses throughout the state. Amazingly, six of these programs (the USM Senior College at Lewiston-Auburn, the Bridgton Senior College, the Midcoast Senior College in Brunswick, the Western Mountains Senior College in Bethel, the University of Maine at Augusta Senior College, and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at USM in Portland) are within a one-hour drive of my house. Each of these senior colleges has a distinct emphasis and set of offerings, so I have a wealth of possibilities available to me.

I was surprised to discover that the USM Senior College at Lewiston-Auburn is not officially an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. This is because the Maine Senior Colleges predate the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes. When the Bernard Osher Foundation began to consider programs focused on mature learners, they looked around for existing successful programs and found two models, one of which was the Senior College at USM, Portland. The University of Southern Maine program became the first Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in 2001. Currently, Osher supports Lifelong Learning Institutes in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. We can add to these programs like the other sixteen Maine Senior Colleges that are not supported by the Bernard Osher Foundation.

Most of these programs seem to be modeled on the University of the 3rd Age (U3A), especially the UK version founded in 1981. Universities of the Third Age, Senior Colleges, and Lifelong Learning Institutes are voluntary membership-based organizations. Members pay modest annual dues ($25 at the Maine Senior Colleges) and can then participate in offered courses, workshops, clubs, etc. (Usually, there is a small additional fee for each of these.) These organizations are volunteer-run, with courses taught by member volunteers and with members serving on committees to handle logistics like course registration.

Once I understood the voluntary nature of these organizations, I realized that I could make a contribution by offering to teach courses, especially since the programs thrive when they have a broad range of courses to offer. I am an experienced teacher, I love to teach, and I find that organizing class discussions provides me with a special kind of intellectual stimulation. I have already put in a proposal to teach a fall course on “True Womanhood and Women’s Activism in 19th Century America,” and I’m looking forward to the excitement of both teaching and taking Senior College courses. For retirees like me, who revel in the intellectual stimulation of group learning, programs like the Maine Senior Colleges and the Osher Lifelong learning Institutes are indeed a treasure.

8 thoughts on “The Treasure That Is OLLI

  1. Melanie says:

    How wonderful that you will have an opportunity to use your teaching expertise in your retirement setting. Thank you for sharing this information. Wish I was there to take your course!

    • Jean says:

      Melanie, I am looking forward to teaching this course. It is a more narrowly focused version of a course on the history of women’s activism in the United States that I taught for many years at Gettysburg College and that was my favorite course to teach. With each iteration, the students helped me to develop new insights into the material; I usually left those class discussions feeling like I was flying.

  2. Diana Studer says:

    me too, I think your lectures must be fascinating

    • Jean says:

      Diana, Unlike the course on “Forests and Fields of Maine” that I took this spring, the course I teach will have a modest amount of assigned reading — so that we can have more discussion than lecture. The class sessions are two hours long, so my plan is to begin each week with a 40-45 minute lecture that presents information or a theoretical interpretation, then take a break, then use the rest of the class time for discussion that links the lecture material with the reading.

  3. Jean R. says:

    I would sign up for the course you’re proposing.

    You mentioned finding the OLLI program at various colleges and universities in your area. I had not thought to look beyond the one I found in my area. We have 2-3 colleges, one university and three satellite Universities near-by (or whatever they are called). I need to do some more research.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, I think the course will be a popular one because it will appeal to both the American history buffs and to the feminists. I’ve put limits of 7 students (minimum) and 20 (maximum) on the enrollment because I want to have the right number for lively discussions.
      Go here for a map of all the OLLI programs in the country. It takes a little more research to find programs that are not officially supported by/affiliated with OLLI. I found a good search term was “senior learning programs” followed by your state, city, or zip code.

  4. Now I would sign up for some classes there and absolutely your course….I think it sad that so many areas do not cater more to retirees…you have found a wonderful spot that has so much for the retired…I need to get on my State officials to do more and offer more…I will check out the links you provided to see what is offered here.

    • Jean says:

      Donna, When I looked at the OLLI map, it showed only 1 Osher-supported program in the entire state of New York, in Rochester. But when I googled “senior learning programs new york” more showed up. I hope you can find something promising near you.

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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