Washington University in St. Louis is a new member of the Age-Friendly University Global Network, a group of educational institutions committed to expanding programs and policies to engage people in all life stages. Universities in the network help develop innovations in education, research, and community engagement in order to increase age-diversity on campus, improve multigenerational learning environments, and create opportunities for career development across a longer life course.
“Life expectancy has doubled in the last century,” said Nancy Morrow-Howell, the Bettie Bofinger Brown Distinguished Professor of Social Policy at the Brown School and director of the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging at the Institute for Public Health. “For financial as well as personal reasons, adults are working longer into the extended life course and are seeking opportunities for ongoing education. By joining this network, Washington University can work with other institutions across the globe to respond to the new reality of population aging.”
Washington University already has many programs and resources for adults of all ages. Almost 10% of Washington University’s student population are 35 and older, with higher percentages seen in professional degree programs. In addition, seminars, workshops, and programs, like the Lifelong Learning Institute, serve adults who want to learn without pursuing a degree. However, Morrow-Howell says, “We can and should do more to offer opportunities that support learning and engagement throughout our lives. We must operate as a more age-diverse university and reflect the communities in which we live and work.”
With support from the Office of the Chancellor, Morrow-Howell has helped launch a new initiative called Washington University for Life. Through collaboration with schools, departments and institutes across the university, the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging at the Institute for Public Health, under the direction of Morrow-Howell, aims to:
• Expand opportunities for people to engage in education throughout the life course, via degree and certificate programs, individual courses, campus seminars and other activities.
• Build skills among faculty, staff and students to work in multigenerational environments.
• Institutionalize programs that facilitate transitions between jobs as well as into retirement, with a focus on ongoing purpose and meaningful engagement.
• Increase knowledge through research on multigenerational education, age-stereotype in academia, and educational pathways for longer lives.
“Our institution aims to build and support habits of lifelong learning among our faculty, staff, students, and alumni,” said Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. “We look forward to exploring how Washington University can become a University for Life that realizes a vision of lifelong engagement, learning, and purpose.”
University College at Washington University serves a greater number of older students than any other unit on campus. Dean Mark Rollins understands the importance of research on learning and instructor training to effectively serve age-diverse classrooms.
Says Rollins, “We must increase our knowledge about educational needs and effective programming for students in mid-life and beyond and extend our teaching skills to best serve multigenerational classrooms.”
The Next Move program at the Brown School is an example of an existing program that will be strengthened as part of the Washington University for Life initiative. Next Move supports students returning for graduate school after substantial work or life experience.
Recent graduate, Lynne Johnson, helped establish a student group affiliated with the Next Move program. “I returned to school after significant work experience and noticed that some students, including myself, felt disconnected from younger peers and current learning environments,” said Johnson. “We hope the Next Move student group will help students redefine, restart, or advance their careers as part of the Washington University community.”
After piloting the group in the Brown School with support from the Friedman Center for Aging, organizers hope it can serve as a model for student groups in other schools and departments.
Working with an internal advisory committee, the Friedman Center for Aging will continue to collect feedback from faculty, staff, students, and alumni during the current academic year. The team will use the feedback to finalize plans to build on existing university programs, work with departments to pilot new programs, and develop a research agenda from which to learn and improve these efforts.
For more information regarding the Washington University for Life initiative, contact the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging at CenterforAging@wustl.edu or 314-747-9192.
The Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging is part of the Institute for Public Health at Washington University in St. Louis. The institute harnesses the strengths of Washington University to address the complex health issues and health disparities facing the St. Louis region and the world. Its goal is to improve community and global health through the creation of new knowledge, the application and translation of science, and the training of advanced academic and practice leaders in public health.