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Lifelong Learning

Universities across North America adjust to 55+ crowd

In the United States, lifelong learning is quickly gaining momentum as more baby boomers look to broaden their horizons with new studies. There are now 117 Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes spread across all 50 states, many of them partnered with major universities, that cater specifically to a slightly older student base than traditional college age. This also appears to be the case in Canada, where educational institutes are implementing similar initiatives.

A year and a half ago, Danny Pendhall lost his job and decided that the best way to enter the workforce again was to start learning something new, according to Peace Arch News. He took a career development class at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Burnaby, British Columbia and now he's employed by Progressive Intercultural Community Services, where he helps other people find work.

Other older Canadians are also going back to the classroom at SFU and other universities.

"Many SFU Continuing Studies students already have some post-secondary education, and yet they want to keep learning - either to prepare for a career change or to boost an already successful career," said Dean of Continuing Studies Helen Wussow.

In many cases, mature students have just as much to offer their fellow classmates as the professors themselves. Sandra Loucks Campbell of Renison College told The Kitchener Waterloo Record that baby boomers who go back to school "enrich" other people with their life experiences.

With the Peer Education at Renison (PEAR) program, Renison College is emulating a unique model put in place at McGill University. Older adults come together to share their knowledge with one another, with different speakers touching on a wide variety of subjects.

Speakers have included acclaimed author Mary-Eilleen McClear, astronomer Paul Schumacher and environmental expert Art Homett.

"The purpose is to give people over 55 an opportunity for lifelong learning, using the McGill model of sharing their wisdom," PEAR director Beverley Brookes told the publication. "We are giving out evaluation sheets for ideas and would like participants to become more involved as members or presenters."

Del Webb retirement communities such as Sun City Mesquite offer a number of ways for residents to participate in lifelong learning programs without having to commute to a college campus. The available classes give retirees the chance to study alongside their peers and learn about dozens of different subjects. 

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