May 17, 2015 by Jean
This 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.
It 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.